When Wildlife Inc. Education & Rehabilitation Center started nearly 30 years ago, the nonprofit rehabbed between 15 and 20 animals for the first couple years. Once the number hit 1,000 a year, Ed Straight said he remembers thinking it was the end of the world.
This year the nonprofit, which is based out of Ed and Gail Straight’s Bradenton Beach home, is on track to respond to 4,000 calls. But while the number of calls has exponentially increased, the rehabilitation of the wildlife still takes place inside the Straights’ home — in what is supposed to be a three-car garage and where they used to park out back.
“We have no choice,” Wildlife Inc. volunteer Murray Miller said Thursday afternoon as he was surrounded by owls. “We are in a position where we have to start thinking about expansion.”
As the only nonprofit licensed to rehab these animals in Manatee County, as well as the only one licensed to handle venomous snakes in Manatee and Sarasota counties, there isn’t another option when these sick, injured or orphaned wildlife need help, Miller said. The nonprofit has an approximately 80 percent release rate back into the wild.
“We are it,” he said. “As you can see, we are crammed into this little space.”
Looking to move off Anna Maria Island
Located in a Level 1 flood zone, the Straights have had to evacuate their Bradenton Beach home three times, putting all the wildlife in cages to get them off the island.
“The word is nightmare,” Ed Straight said.
When looking for a new location, it will be off the island and out of a flood zone, Miller said. It will also most likely still be in Manatee County.
“That’s our goal, or close to the border perhaps,” he said of staying in Manatee County.
Wildlife Inc. is hoping to move onto a 10 to 20-acre property where they will be able to do both the rehab work but also host an educational component. Officials estimate the expansion will cost about $1 million.
“We really need to find some significant funding source,” Miller said.
While the nonprofit, which operates solely from donations plus an occasional grant, received $18,640 through the 2016 Giving Challenge, this will only be able to cover three months worth of operations.
“A lot of our budget goes to food,” Miller said. “Another big chunk goes to medications.”
As the county continues to grow to the east, it pushes more and more animals out of their habitats, resulting in more and more calls, Miller said.
“As we push into natural habitat, our calls seem to go up exponentially, especially with larger mammals,” he said.
Wildlife Inc. wants to do more for the community, said Damen Hurd, vice president of Wildlife Inc.
“We just need more facilities,” he said. “Everybody relies on us. We really need this for people to give back to help us.”
The nonprofit has maximized its existing space, Hurd said.
“Basically the county relies on us, but we have really outgrown our quarters for these animals,” he said. “We just don’t have room anymore. It has gotten to the bursting point.”
Expansion would allow for more opportunities
On a recent afternoon, Hurd unlocks a shed near the Mixon Fruit Farm’s Wildlife Refuge where he keeps his venomous snakes. He normally doesn’t show the public the snakes due to lack of proper space. But in a new facility, he said he would want to be able to educate the public on the different snake species.
“You want to work with the worst so be prepared to handle any situation,” Hurd said as he shows the different snakes. “We want to do a lot of education and in a proper facility to teach people about these.”
In a new facility, Hurd said he also would like to build a large alligator pond since nuisance alligators can’t be released in Manatee County and typically are put down once captured.
“If you have a place to offer them a home, they could be used for educational purposes rather than being put down,” he said.
A new facility would also allow for a larger clinic that is not in a space intended as a three-car garage, as well as a flight cage, which would help with the rehab of birds of prey, Miller said.
“We can’t do that in here,” Miller said. “It is just too small. We really need to start building a flight cage to rehab more effectively than we are now.”
The expansion would help the animals but also carry on what the Straights started in 1987.
“We want to see this not only for the animals but for them,” Hurd said of the expansion.
Wildlife, Inc. Education & Rehabilitation Center
- Nonprofit started in 1987
- Currently operated out of Gail and Ed Straight’s Bradenton Beach home
- Handles between 3,000 and 4,000 cases each year
- For more information and to donate, visit wildlifeinc.org.