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Deal keeps Cape wildlife center aloft

Personnel at the Cape Wildlife Center cleaned seabirds that had been caught in an oil spill.
New England Wildlife Center
Personnel at the Cape Wildlife Center cleaned seabirds that had been caught in an oil spill.

Injured and orphaned turtles, foxes, bats, sea birds and all manner of needy wildlife won’t be left out in the cold thanks to a deal worked out to keep the Cape Wildlife Center open in Barnstable.

The Humane Society of the United States announced on Nov. 15 that it was giving the facility to an animal welfare group, Pegasus Foundation, which in turn was transferring the property to the New England Wildlife Center in Weymouth. The facility will be known in the future as the Birdsey Cape Wildlife Center.

The center had been on the brink of closing two years ago, when volunteers and the New England Wildlife Center stepped in to run the operation, which takes care of about 2,000 animals a year and provides the only wildlife veterinary care on the Cape and Islands.

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“It was really hard because we’re such a small nonprofit,” said New England Wildlife’s executive director, Katrina Bergman. “But we felt that not to have wildlife care on the Cape was unconscionable.”

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Among the creatures currently getting help are a juvenile barn owl found beside a dead adult barn owl on Nantucket, a red-tail hawk recovering from a suspected case of West Nile virus, a screech owl with a repaired broken wing, another screech owl dealing with head trauma after an encounter with a car, and several over-wintering turtles.

The Cape Wildlife Center also has responded to an oil spill and helped identify diseases affecting two types of sea birds, cormorants and gannets, Bergman said.

“We’re extremely grateful we have the opportunity to keep serving the Cape and keep the doors open,” said Zak Mertz, executive director of the Cape center. “It’s such an incredible and biologically diverse environment here. Having a safety net for wildlife in need is absolutely essential.”

He added that the education provided by the center is essential to promote environmental stewardship and “keep Cape Cod wild.”

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The center started in the late 1980s as the Orenda Wildlife Land Trust, a small rehabilitation center for injured, sick, and orphaned wildlife on Cape Cod, and a training center for wildlife rehabilitators.

In 1995, the program was given to the Humane Society of the United States, which expanded and moved the operation from West Barnstable to Barnstable, adding full-time veterinary care and modern equipment.

In late 2016, the Humane Society decided to shift resources to other parts of the country and announced plans to close the Cape Cod facility. The Pegasus Foundation agreed to take responsibility for keeping the center open, and the New England Wildlife Center sent staff to run the place and raised $1.7 million toward its continued operation.

Bergman expressed gratitude to the Pegasus Foundation, the Humane Society, and all the volunteers and donors, including Barbara and Dave Birdsey. Barbara Birdsey founded the Pegasus Foundation, and she and her husband are well-known conservationists.

Bergman noted that the New England Wildlife Center receives no federal or state money and relies on donations.

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“This is a next step, not an ending. We need everyone’s help to keep the doors open,” she said.

Johanna Seltz can be reached at seltzjohanna@gmail.com.