An owl that is terrified of mice, a fox that runs in circles and a hawk with bullet pellets embedded in its wing — these animals don't stand a likely chance of surviving in the wild, but the Back To Nature Wildlife Refuge's staff and UCF interns have come to the rescue.
"In the wild, it would make them easier prey. We want to make sure when they are released they have a fighting chance on their own," said Trenna Engelmann, a full-time animal care specialist and 2011 alumna with a bachelor's in biology.
"We use these animals to help educate people and the public [about animals], such as our birds of prey that have been illegally shot," Engelmann said.
The nonprofit refuge's mission is to rescue, raise, rehabilitate and release injured or orphaned Florida native species. However, some animals have suffered such extreme neurological damage that they cannot be released.
"Residential animals are deemed non-releasable because they either have neurological or physical damage," Englemann said.
All of the interns and volunteers work with the residential animals.
One of the residential animals is an Arctic marble fox named Spencer. He is native to the Arctic regions of the Northern Hemisphere, but he was found here — right by UCF.
"He was found abandoned outside in a dog crate behind a nearby UCF apartment complex," Englemann said.
Because he's not native to Florida, Englemann explained Spencer was most likely brought over for the sometimes-illegal pet trade or fur trade. She said the owners might have put the fox outside because the apartment complex wasn't pet-friendly or the fox had a strong musky odor, which would be highly noticeable.
Other residential animals include a bobcat named Oliver who has imprinted on humans who rescued him, a red-tailed hawk named Tarot who was shot and is unable to fly, and a red fox named Taylor who was struck by a car and suffered neurological trauma.
Englemann said that whenever the refuge gets a rehabilitated animal from the public, it keeps the animal for six months. In cases where the animal is not improving, a vet must deem it non-releasable and get approval from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation, along with other steps, in order to keep the animal longer.
Fortunately, this year for the refuge, it was able to release two bobcats and five raccoons into the wild.
In order to release an animal into the wild, the area must have 40 acres of privately owned property and the landowner's permission.
Cat Bower, a sophomore biology major, just started at the refuge this spring semester for a credited internship.
"The animal-caring duties change every day. You get trained with each animal before going in by yourself," Bower said.
Another UCF intern is Ashton Dohany, a senior biology major, who's interning for the second time. While interning, he has bonded with an emu named Coco.
"You can get her to lie down and she'll get into this little trance and will rest her head on you," Dohany said as he went into the enclosed area and built up trust with Coco.
Coco was found on John Young Parkway, where she caused some accidents and may have been struck by a car.
Englemann said that there are uncredited and credited internships through UCF and Valencia. Interns usually work six and a half hours per week, but it depends on how many credits a student wants to earn. Volunteers work four hours per week.
Admission to the refuge is $5. Those interested can also sponsor an animal for $25.
Veronica Brezina is a Senior Staff Writer for the Central Florida Future.