CROW Remains Closed, Patients Fine After Ian

by SC Reporter Cassie Wilkins

The Clinic for the Rehabilitation of Wildlife on Sanibel remains closed for recovery in the aftermath of Hurricane Ian, which left a trail of destruction and residents to pick up the pieces of an island that is unrecognizable.

CROW has been providing medical care to the wildlife of Southwest Florida for nearly five decades. And after several days of monitoring Ian, CROW staff made the decision to evacuate their critical care patients two days before the storm hit the island.

In under a day, the patients were relocated to wildlife facilities on the east coast, while CROW’s students, animal ambassadors (wildlife that cannot be released back into their natural habitat) and remaining patients evacuated to safe locations off the island.

“Although we will miss working with our ambassador animals, we made the decision to transfer them with their best interest at heart. We hope to see some of them back at CROW in the future,” stated Dr. Robin Bast, a CROW veterinarian.

Throughout the storm CROW hospital staff housed owls, hawks, animal ambassadors, and various avian species in their homes, garages, and spare bedrooms. Various orphaned animals such as raccoons, squirrels, and opossums were temporarily put up in CROW students’ hotel rooms where they were regularly fed.

“We were able to evacuate over 160 of our animals. They went off island with us. Some stayed in hotel rooms with our students. Some went home with staff members. Our more critical patients were transferred to other facilities across the state,” said CROW Executive Director Alison Hussey.

Operations at CROW have been paused due to the damage of the Sanibel Causeway. CROW staff were able to assess the damage from Hurricane Ian from aerial photos and helicopter transport courtesy of the Lee County Mosquito Control District.

Rehabilitation enclosures were damaged by fallen trees while the bottom floor of the hospital was ruptured due to the storm surge. Various sections of the siding and rooftops were torn away by the hurricane force winds. CROW’s visitor education center, wildlife hospital, and student housing buildings endured the hurricane and remain intact.

“I went back and we were very blessed. While we did have some damage it could have been much worse. We will have to rebuild some of our enclosures but the hospital seemed to fair very well. We don’t have power and until electricity is running through the building we don’t know the full extent of what was damaged,” said Hussey.

Since the storm, CROW staff have been regularly monitoring the welfare of admitted wildlife patients who were checked into BluePearl Pet Hospital in Fort Myers. BluePearl serves as a partner to CROW and has been an extension to the hospital’s drop-off site for many years.

“Until we are up and running in our temp off-island site we are still triaging patients at BluePearl. Animals can be taken to any of our veterinary partners especially to the BluePearl facility near I-75 and Daniels (Parkway). Our staff will care for their animals and they will be transported to another facility,” said Hussey.

On Oct. 13, some of the staff members traveled back to the island on the Sanibel Captiva Conservation Foundation Norma Campbell Research Vessel to assemble medical supplies.

An orphaned raccoon was discovered on the property and rescued by Katie Mueller, a certified wildlife rehabilitator. CROW executives and board members are currently working to bring the hospital back to full operation by securing a temporary off-island site in order to carry out the work of saving the local wildlife..

“We had a staff meeting today about how our animals have fared their new families. We do check up on them and are excited to say everyone is doing well. Some of our transfers have since been released back into the wild,” said Hussey.

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