“ Wild thing, you make my heart sing”

Copyright © by SuZi, 8/13/10


  Florida is a rare place: a peninsula hundreds of miles long,  a sandbar formed from the toes of the ancient mountains; half subtropical, with the seas and swamps and waterways endangered now by generations of human hands. This is the last stand for tribes of birds, for all manner of flora, for creatures cute and not. It is not unusual to see a gopher turtle, an endangered species, five feet to the right of the road, its carapace broken, its lungs exploded out sideways, legs and tail thrust out, head extended with eyes half closed, mouth half open, a death mask of unmistakable agony.

  Humans have become creatures of sacrilege, they are bringers of death to the wild places and the wild things--all for another golf course (that is sprayed with millions of gallons per night of drinkable water, sometimes mixed with herbicides, insecticides, nitrates et cetera), for another tract of robotic houses, another half-empty mall. Even farm land becomes an instant village, generic  The seagulls leave the beach to hover over dumpsters, the few wild species able to attempt coexistence with humans suffer often: “ Most of the animals are injured by contact with human beings: automobiles rank as the number one cause, followed by fishing hooks and monofilament line” (8). Humanity has become the cancer of our planet, despite the teachings of many cultures  over thousand of years warning us against our own rapaciousness.

  Yet, there’s hope—the large task of healing harm is being done by too few people. As outlined, episodically, in Brian Johnson’s Amazing Animal Stories From Crow: Clinic for the Rehabilitation of Wildlife (Island Scene. 2008), every one, from a rat snake that mistook golf balls for bird eggs, to a too-young, two pound bobcat kitten found on a porch, is given unbiased, equal medical treatment and released when healed to an appropriate, often unpopulated place.

  The book itself is taken from articles from the local, Sannibel-Captiva newspaper, and lavish with color photographs long on charm. Each chapter is about a particular rescue, all dated within the 21st century, and titled by species: “American Bald Eagle”, or “Kemp’s Ridley Sea Turtle”. Although the text is readable at any level—it would even be suitable as bed time story material—the information is also valid clinical procedure of veterinary protocol. Additionally, the propensities of the patient as an individual and as a species are given acknowledgement: a baby wild hog is given a changing rotation of toys “to keep him diverted”(48), a baby river otter , who had to teach herself to swim,  is joined with  even younger otters—although, as Dr PJ Deitschel said in the text , the older otter  “ ‘ was a little shy’” but then began “”teaching them how to get in the water and swim’”(36).

  As a veterinary guide to wildlife treatment, this text—after repeating the credo that wild creatures are not to become habituated to humans—offers a rare look into the inclusion of Traditional Chinese Veterinary Medicine (TCVM) into common western medical veterinary practice. One example is a raccoon hit by a car who is given “two different types of pain medication, a sedative, antioxidant vitamins, subcutaneous fluids, antibiotics, and the Chinese herb Yunnan Paiyou to reduce any internal bleeding”(40). This is a dramatically different procedure from a county pound that would treat the raccoon with the final needle of barbiturates.  The inclusion of TCVM into practice is most explored in the chapter “Red- Shouldered Hawk”, where an underweight hawk is found in a yard and diagnosed by blood work to “reveal severe dehydration”( 62). The text further states:

  The bird was no better on May 1, had not eaten since his arrival and hovered somewhere between life and death. With the hawk lying on his chest, Dr Amber McNamera decided to try a round of acupuncture. She found three points, including ‘Kidney 1’, which is located  in the pad of the foot. CROW staff wishes they had a film of what happened next.  ‘The hawk literally lifted his head and stood up’ said Dr. PJ. ‘I’ve never seen anything so dramatic here at the clinic’(62-63).

  The text then mentions the TCVM training of Dr. PJ Deitschel  via Florida’s Chi Institute, which offers accredited veterinary training in partnership with the veterinary program at the University of Florida, Gainesville.  The program is taught by Dr. Xie, whose seminal text Traditional Chinese Veterinary Medicine (Jing Tang 2003) ought to be required reading for every medical practitioner.  Johnson describes the acupuncture treatment of the hawk as “the punch needed to restore the bird to life” (63) and Johnson quotes Dr Deitschel  as finding acupuncture “particularly effective  at treating the spinal trauma of gopher tortoises and toxicosis of birds”(63).

  Albeit that the few humans who are afraid of other species might not warm to such medical specifics, even the average cat-dog caretaker is given pause at considering birds poisoned while in the wild, or the difficulties posed in treating turtles because of their unique anatomy. Thus, through the graceful text, lovely photography, and happy ending of each chapter, the reader is gently awakened to a more enlightened perception of our world: that creatures other than ourselves are living beings with their own medical difficulties, and these difficulties are mostly the doings of our own damned human hands. If the small staff at a single clinic on Florida’s Gulf Coast can give themselves to rectifying some of the damage done, then it only behooves the rest of us to also do what we can in our own geographic locations. Although this text is specific to the Sannibel clinic CROW, it would be too dismal to think there is no other wildlife rehabilitation effort being made anywhere else. Environmentally, we are in dismal times of our own making; however, it is incumbent upon us to cast fatalism aside and get to the pragmatic business of helping where we can. Perhaps this simple book will be guide enough for call to arms wherever one calls home.


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