By Mary Chris Murray
Located on five acres within their original Whitfield Road property in Freeport, the Alaqua Wildlife Rehabilitation Center is a state and federally permitted facility, providing a much-needed resource of rehabilitating sick, injured, and orphaned native wildlife. Permits were issued by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) (pending). Alaqua anticipates most animals will come from Walton, Okaloosa, and Bay counties. However, there are eight counties surrounding Alaqua’s facilities with no physical rehabilitation center.
“Alaqua receives a dozen or more calls a week to help injured wildlife, and up until this point we have had to send them to another facility,” said Alaqua Founder Laurie Hood. “It is heart-wrenching to think there is an animal out there suffering. We believe that all animals deserve a second chance, and that includes our important wildlife. We are thrilled to finally be a resource for people in our community when they see injured wildlife, and we will also be able to educate them in the process.” Laurie also iterated, “With the overdevelopment around our state and in other parts of our country, animals are losing their natural habitat. It is becoming more increasingly important to respect their environments and protect them for future generations.”
A highly experienced wildlife specialty team has been assembled with a combined 30 years’ experience working with wildlife in clinical settings. The facility includes a fully functional wildlife clinic with surgical suite, triage area, ICU for critical animals, a detached avian nursery, and a mammal nursery with rabies vector species quadrant to provide specialized care for orphaned babies in a contained environment. Additional outdoor habitats including a brand-new flight cage have also been constructed on the wooded property to provide an environment free from common urban stressors. This will allow the rehabilitation process to happen in a setting that is closely similar to being back in nature.
Animals of all types are welcome including shore birds, seabirds, birds of pretty, mammals, marsupials, and reptiles. The organization expects the new facility to fill up within a couple of weeks due to the increased need in the area with an estimated capacity of approximately 300 animals.
In addition to physically rehabilitating animals, Alaqua is spearheading a “Re-nesting / Reuniting Educational Campaign” to educate the public on how to safely get healthy babies back to their parents, where their chances of survival are greater.
Alaqua and its staff have met all requirements associated with the FWC and the USFWS permitting regulations which include thousands of hours working hands on with wildlife and other specific requirements for various species. Medical, husbandry, nursery, transport, rescue, capture, and release experience with all species is mandatory.
Animals may be dropped at the Alaqua Whitfield Campus from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., 7-days a week (located at 914 Whitfield Road, Freeport, FL). A volunteer team is also in the process of being assembled to rescue animals and bring them back to Alaqua. Individuals needing assistance can call the office at (850) 880-6697 or the FWC Wildlife Hotline at (888) 404-3922. Alaqua operates solely on funds that are raised through private donations and fundraising. Currently, the non-profit organization does not receive any state or federal funding for these types of community programs and services. The facility will not be open to the public as it is important to rehabilitate in a quiet space and keep human interaction to a minimum to ensure the animals’ safety until they are ultimately ready to be released back into the wild.
Alaqua’s long-term vision is to create a wildlife sanctuary on 40 acres of its new property to provide a refuge for injured wildlife animals that are unable to be released back into their native environment. This sanctuary will also contain a rehabilitation area and will allow visitors to connect with these animals in a natural setting allowing guests to learn about various species, how to co-exist with them, and how they can protect them for future generations.
“The Alaqua Wildlife Rehabilitation Center on our Whitfield Campus is just the beginning,” commented Laurie.