BAR HARBOR — Every corner of Acadia Wildlife Center teems with environmental art, hands-on exhibits and nature collections to capture any curiosity for hours. But beyond the trove of zoologist treasures lays an even more fascinating discovery: the furry, feathery and scaly creatures tucked into tailored enclosures.
Ann Rivers is the sole steward of the nonprofit rehabilitation clinic and dozens of wildlife cared for within. She has been on the scene since 1997, taking in several hundred patients and fielding 5,000 phone calls annually. At any given time, the center can house up to 100 animals ranging from mammals to birds, reptiles and amphibians.
Rivers’ round-the-clock mission is to nurse these wounded wildlife back to health and eventually to their native habitats.
“It all starts with a phone call,” Rivers said.
Someone who has come across an injured animal contacts the center for assistance. Rivers will assess the severity of the situation with them to see if the animal actually needs help.
“We talk it through, they tell me what they’re seeing, what they’re worried about,” she said. “I figure out whether I need to tell them to bring it in.”
Once they arrive, the intake process begins. While the animal settles down from the tumultuous journey in a secluded area, Rivers gets as many details as possible from the concerned party about what occurred to better understand and care for the patient.
“So, if they found it underneath a window, you think, OK, it hit a window, I’m going to look for those kinds of symptoms,” Rivers said. “Every observation someone has made, it’s important stuff.”
She will then administer an exam to evaluate the patient fully and chart a recovery course. Injuries may range from wounds and concussions to broken bones. Treatments may involve x-ray imaging, bloodwork and drug prescriptions.
Once the injuries heal, small temperature-controlled rehab rooms are upgraded to big, outdoor cages. It is now time to exercise and prepare for release back to their original home.
In the case of two abandoned baby bobcats, whose two-minute mealtime video posted on the Acadia Wildlife Facebook page garnered over 18K likes and 2.8K shares, they were found during an excavation under a brush pile in June.
After failed attempts to reunite the kittens with their mother, Game Warden Eric Rudolph brought them in for examination. At first, Rivers left them in a quiet room, periodically providing nourishment through a feeding syringe.
Once they became adjusted to their new environment, the male and female were moved to an outside pen, filled with trees and logs to climb on. They now spend their days playing and growing into strong felines hopefully capable of contending with unguarded conditions.
Eventually, the bobcats will be released in the fall around the time their mother would have let them go. But Rivers does a soft release where the two will be able to come and go all winter for food as they learn to hunt. She said this is a vital step to their survival because they are at a disadvantage; even wild cats only survive at a rate of 40 percent.
Anything from a moose to a mouse
This summer, the walls of the center have housed fox, gosling, coyote, ermine, woodchuck, swallows, bats, woodpeckers, skunks, hummingbirds, snakes and many more species. And no two patients have the same prognosis.
A hummingbird with a broken wing needs a cast, orphaned baby bats need to be nursed every two hours and a coyote with mange can be treated with three months of medication.
“You get in hundreds of different species with hundreds of different problems,” Rivers said. “You have to learn on the job.”
Regardless of the wide variety of disease and illnesses AWC tends to, each patient requires a heaping dose of tender loving care to successfully recover. Thanks to the tireless dedication of Rivers, within a matter of days, a once debilitated animal can be found running freely as if it were never wounded in the first place.
“It’s incredibly satisfying. You wake up every day and you’ve done something,” Rivers said.
Animals unable to be released back into the wild due to lasting injuries become permanent guests at the center. Rivers applies for special education permits form the Maine Inland Fisheries and Wildlife and the federal government to keep these individuals.
The rehabilitation patients are protected from public viewing so they maintain their wild nature, but education partners are specially trained to acclimate to human interaction.
Conservation education programs take place in the nature center on Saturdays at 11 a.m. by reservation or other times by appointment.
Rivers said the education center, which teaches the public about animals and conservationism, evolved out of a want to give her clients something in return for their help in saving an animal.
“Let’s say we save 100 animals; the next year that’s another 100 babies. So, there’s a generation of animals that would not exist if we had not healed the original,” said Rivers’ son, Tony Mullane.
“It’s the same with education; every kid that you spark that interest in, they go on and fall in love with nature and animals, and then they care and take that into being an adult.”
The nature center or education classroom boasts a variety of owls including two saw-whet, one of North America’s smallest owls, a porcupine named Spike, a fox, multiple species of turtles, dozens of bats and even a bald eagle.
AWC is one of the only centers in Maine with a full-time bald eagle permit. Luke, who has been with the center for 15 years, came to the center as a juvenile with major head trauma. From barely being able to stand, he learned how to walk and eventually to fly.
An education woodpecker named Harry was docile for years. He could barely take flight until one day he was found fluttering about. After testing him in a flight cage, AWC certified his release. These types of small miracles tend to happen at the center on a regular basis.
From humble beginnings to a successful sanctuary
The AWC facilities sit on 15 acres of private land and include a 1,100-square-foot clinic and nature center and 15 outside enclosures for recovering animals, including a flight pen for eagles, a water cage for loons and a flyaway for bats. But the refuge didn’t start out in all its glory. It grew from a 10-by-10-foot cabin and a bunny hutch.
In fact, Rivers inherited the organization from founder Coleen Doucette, who started AWC in 1994. Doucette left to work on oiled wildlife in Delaware. Rivers’ background started in wildlife rehabilitation and education at the Audubon Society in Massachusetts.
For three years she worked at the clinic until she went to college in Ontario. One of her professor’s partners was the director of Long Point Bird Observatory on Lake Erie.
“Every waking moment that I could get away from school, I went down there more every summer, every holiday,” Rivers said.
After spending countless hours researching and protecting endangered nesting species she earned her credentials as a master bird bander.
Her tenure in Canada ended with graduation. But she quickly found a new home in Mount Desert Rock after seeing an advertisement in the paper for a Whale Research assistant position. Being isolated 25 miles out to sea made for perfect conditions for a bird research station.
There she would begin her love for bats. The nocturnal creatures would find their way into her nets at night when she was fishing for petrales. She would later go on to build Maine’s first bat flyaway at AWC in 2019.
“I just think they’re amazing,” said Rivers “And I tend to like animals that other people don’t like. Maybe so I can change their minds about them.”
She wound up at AWC to fill the shoes of her next-door neighbor who was going to close up shop. After a 10-year hiatus from rehabilitation and an afternoon with Dorcette to prepare, Rivers was left in charge.
Rivers has been on the job ever since, expanding the center and caring for almost every variety of wildlife for 25 years.
Mullane remembers when the walls of the education center, which was formerly a boat building woodshop, went up. He’s worked alongside his mom building a new exhibit or cage every year.
“My mom and I built the entire eagle cage together. We lifted each panel up and screwed it in,” he said.
Mullane, who has early memories of riding in his childhood car with bears in the back seat, said he’ll probably inherit the organization one day, but he’s worried about how to cover the ever-growing costs.
“I’ve worked for mostly nonprofits my entire life. I love getting up and working for a mission and doing something good in the world, but you also have to be able to live,” Mullane said.
Rivers said rehabilitators are few and far between because most people aren’t willing to give up their life and entire life savings to care for injured or orphaned animals.
“I need to have something that has meaning to me, that I can look back on my life and just say I feel good if I did something” she said. “So that’s why I keep doing it. And the animals are wonderful.”
For more information or to make a donation, visit AWC’s website at www.acadiawildlife.org.