By Angela Higginbotham
A dynamic and passionate team of three volunteers give life to The Ark Wildlife Rescue and Rehabilitation. Based in St. Augustine, Karen Lynch, Thaida Bonner and Valerie Hale work tirelessly to rescue and treat animals in need. Serving St. Johns and all surrounding counties, the team have rescued, rehabilitated and released 20,000 local wildlife since the non-profit organization formed in late 1999. In 2016, they were able to provide assistance to more than 1,600 animals.
“We go wherever there’s a need. We put thousands of miles on our personal vehicles doing onsite rescues and we are available 24/7. Our phones are always on and we are so proud to provide a service to help the people and animals of the community,” Hale said.
Young squirrels, opossums and baby birds make up the majority of rescue intakes made by The Ark. In 2016 alone, a total of 695 rescues were made of just these three species.
“I believe the most interesting rescue was the night heron that was reported hanging over Dunns Creek in Jacksonville,” Hale said.
This unfortunate accident occurred when the heron’s left wing became entangled in fishing line that was hanging down from a branch. The heron’s right wing was also entangled in the line that had also been snagged on debris in the water below.
“I responded without knowing if the animal was still alive. Given the circumstances, it seemed prudent to bring my paddleboard. After much effort getting to the scene and launching the board, thankfully, the heron was still alive. Then the rehabilitation began,” Hale said.
The Ark receives no funding from local, state or federal agencies and runs solely on support from the community. Corporate funding and public donations provide the resources needed to cover all aspects of rescuing and treating the animals.
“The public doesn’t always realize how much we need their assistance. We could not be more proud of the work we do, but we need a lot of help to make it all possible. We are not animal control and we never send an invoice; we simply ask for support. The journey actually starts after we rescue the animal,” Hale said.
If it’s an animal that The Ark can’t rehabilitate, the women will place that animal with the best facility for treatment, Hale said.
Support is offered from Marineland and local veterinary offices, but additional efforts are always needed in order to remain successful in serving the community and the wildlife. Every animal is rescued, given medical attention and nourished at the expense of The Ark.
The Ark Rescue and Rehabilitation occupies a facility on Anastasia Island to house seabirds and wading birds such as pelicans, storks and herons. Mammals are rehabilitated on personal property.
An immediate goal is to raise awareness regarding the extraordinary partnership needed between The Ark and the community; Florida Fish and Wildlife advises citizens to contact The Ark when an injured or orphaned animal is reported.
The average cost to rehabilitate a rescued animal is $50. Donations are the lifeline that enables the organization to make a difference. Visit www.thearkrescue.org or www.gofundme.com/thearkrescue for more information or to help. The Ark Wildlife Rescue can be also found on Facebook.
Photo courtesy Valerie Hale
Valerie Hale rescuing a Canada Goose trapped in tangled fishing line. The rescue took place about two months ago in Julington Creek.