Taking captivity in their stride

It must be terrifying for a wild animal when it is brought into the Rollo Centre at Berwick Swan and Wildlife Trust for treatment, recovery, food and rest.

Sunday, 19th March 2017, 3:23 pm
Updated Friday, 24th March 2017, 9:51 am
Breakfast in bed at the hedgehog hotel: food, drink, and even the newspaper!

They are pitched into a totally alien indoor setting, in the restricted space of a cage or aviary, with humans much closer to them than they feel comfortable with.

After a lifetime of endless open skies or rambling woodland forays under cover of darkness, we can’t really imagine an animal’s distress at the glaring lights and loud noises of the trust’s recovery room.

Of course, some species respond more positively to their temporary captivity.

As long as they have a comfortable bed and one square meal a day, the hedgehogs don’t seem to miss the wide open spaces that much.

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In fact, last week, as I filled up a tray with food and water bowls and newspaper to line the bottom of hutches, rather than trek back and forth to the outdoor hog runs, it occurred to me that I could be a member of staff at a rather luxurious hotel.

The tray of food, complete with newspaper, looked for all the world like the hogs had called room service to have breakfast in bed.

But it always has to be remembered that the aim of the wildlife rescue game is to return fit and healthy creatures to their natural habitat.

With that in mind, handling and contact should be kept to an absolute minimum – no matter how cute the ‘patient’ may be.

This is easier said that done with some animals, especially very young ones where there are no adults for them to bond with, or those ‘patients’ that need to be hand-reared by the volunteers.

The first time I ventured into the crows’ enclosure as a rookie volunteer (if you’ll pardon the pun), one of the birds immediately flew at me and tried to land on my shoulder.

Given my terror of flapping wings, this would have been enough to make me drop the food bowl and bolt for the exit. However, I had been warned that this particular crow had been hand-reared and he considered the volunteers as his surrogate parents.

I was under strict instructions to brush him off, though, as by then we were trying to persuade him to be more independent as part of the preparations for his release into the wild again.

I don’t think we are going to be able to follow the same course of action with the muscovy-mix duckling that came in over the winter.

From being tiny, he’s had no similar adults to ‘imprint’ with, the nearest being a pigeon who never really appreciated the duck’s efforts to make friends.

Musky is now such a sociable little thing.

I do wonder if he has inherited some domestic breed genes as he’s absolutely over the moon when anyone comes to see him, waggling his tail and trilling at the top of his voice.

If he ever does get the call of the wild, I very much suspect that this little bird might just ignore it.