Thousands of wild animals are hurt every year here in the north woods, from cars, construction and other critters. But just a handful ever get the care and treatment they need.
That's where Wild Instincts comes in. Volunteers at the animal rehabilitation center look after injured or orphaned wildlife until they're better or old enough to take care of themselves.
"Everything from mice to bears, to sparrows to eagles, and everything in between," said Mark Naniot, the director of rehabilitation.
Located on the outskirts of Rhinelander, the facility makes visitors feel like they're one with Mother Nature. And that's the idea.
"Basically, we feed, clean and then leave [the animals] alone and leave them to be as wild as they possibly can," Naniot said. "Because our goal is to get them out into the wild and not be nuisance to humans."
Don't get it confused with a zoo. The guests are off limits to the public. And animals, like their bald eagle, are given large 100x20x20ft flight cages to roam free.
"Currently, we've got about 14 injured patients," Naniot said. "The majority is song birds. We have two bobcat kittens... we have a bat, we have a turtle." One of their patients is a fox snake that was found two months ago in the Wausau area nearly starved to death. It had two large wounds from some landscape fabric.
After working with animals his entire life, Naniot built Wild Instincts from the ground up two years ago. The staff is just him and his wife. They rely solely on donations, volunteers and interns to run this $60,000-a-year rehabilitation center. Yet it's time and money well spent. In 2012, they housed 550 animals that either the public or the Dept. of Natural Resources called in. Around 74 percent were successfully rehabilitated into the wild. The national average is 50 percent.
"Humans take away a lot of things, from ruining habitats and building houses and hitting animals with cars and things like that," Naniot said. "So my favorite part is to release the animals into the wild and set right what went wrong."
But some patients aren't so lucky. Many become permanent residents, like the bald eagle that has a clipped wing, making it impossible for him to ever fly again. And their red-tailed hawk--she has a head injury and lost her left eye, meaning she can't hunt for food on her own anymore. Mark says it's heartbreaking when those cases come in.
"That's the hardest part because there are a large amount of animals that come in with too severe of injuries that cannot be released," he said. "Because if an animal isn't 100 percent, they're going to have a hard time surviving out in the wild."
The lifetime residents earn their keep, though. The bald eagle plays an important role in others' rehabilitation.
"It's very important to have some surrogates or some fosters in house to be able to take care of the young ones," Naniot said. "So we had two young eagles this year. So it acts like kind of a role model. It kinda shows them what they're supposed to do and how they're supposed to go about doing things."
Wild Instincts is the only place in north central Wis. licensed to do all species of animals. Without Mark Naniot, there would be nowhere else for them to go nearby.
"The numbers don't lie," he said. "When we get 550 plus animals, that's a lot of people that are concerned about the wildlife and their welfare."
The facility is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. If you see an injured animal, call them immediately at 715-490-2727. Naniot says he is always looking for volunteers, too.
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