The two baby raccoons squall so loud that conversation is barely possible, yet they have healthy appetites as Mark Naniot feeds them from a bottle. At only a couple weeks old, their eyes aren’t open, and their movements are blindly uncoordinated. They were abandoned under a porch, and a kindly couple brought them to Wild Instincts, Mark’s wild animal rehabilitation center in Newbold.
For this licensed and certified wildlife rehabilitator, these baby raccoons represent the start of an influx that will peak in June. Already Mark and his wife, Sharon Larson, are nursing three bear cubs, a couple of squirrels, a snake, an injured eagle whose wing tip is gone and a beautiful rough-legged hawk who peeks shyly from behind a curtain over its cage. It’s an inevitable fact that by June, Wild Instincts will be crowded with animals of every species. But this year Mark and Sharon are ready, and the look of relief in their eyes is noticeable.
Only a little more than a year ago, Mark was rehabilitating animals from a small garage that was on a piece of property he bought in Newbold. It was still cold and wintery, and the couple was worried about how they were going to manage once the spring came and more wild creatures would be brought to them.
Mark had worked for years at the Northwoods Wildlife Center in Minocqua, serving has a licensed rehabilitator for that facility, but there was a parting of ways. However, he left with three important things; a rehabilitator’s license; a fierce determination to continue his work; and a dream of opening his own wildlife center.
But while dreams and determination can take a person far, the couple also needed money, land and help in getting started. For a short while Mark, who has been rehabilitating wild creatures for more than 30 years, thought maybe a 9 to 5 job might be a good change, but then fate intervened, and a relative left him a small inheritance.
“What really bothered me was that there would be no one properly licensed and with the knowledge to care for the wildlife in this area if they needed help,” said Mark. “I just couldn’t let that happen.”
So the couple took the inheritance money and bought a parcel of wooded property in Newbold off Apperson Drive. Only a small garage was on the property when they bought it, but Mark hung out his shingle, and it wasn’t long before animals were making their way to Wild Instincts. Last year the couple successfully rehabilitated more than 300 creatures from this start up facility.
What a difference a year makes. Today Mark and Sharon operate from a beautiful building, designed by Mark, that caters specifically to the needs of wild creatures of every caliber. The 2,880 square foot facility has a lobby area, office space and restrooms for the humans who take care of the animals, but it was with wild creatures in mind that Mark designed his new structure.
There is a spacious and sanitary examination room, complete with a big tub for cleaning the animals and stocked with medical supplies to treat injured creatures. There are three isolation rooms, with cages for raptors, cranes and other large birds. There’s a nursery for baby animals, and two rooms for different mammal species, such as coyotes and bobcats. One room boasts a small area that can be filled with water which was specifically designed for aquatic animals like ducks and loons. There’s even a space for fawns where they can access a large outdoor yard when they are old enough to venture out.
With winter behind us and the weather warming, Mark is now focusing on creating outdoor areas where most creatures will go once they are strong enough. Many of these spaces are already completed, such as a 45×25 foot cage that has a 5,000 gallon cement pond that Mark dug himself. This will be used to rehabilitate otters. There’s a cage hidden in the woods for coyote rehabilitation, and since the arrival of three small bear cubs, Mark is working feverishly to get a 115×40 foot outdoor area ready for these youngsters. It will have high walls and lots of room for these animals to frolic and play. Also in the works is a spacious flight pen so raptors can use their wings during their rehabilitation period. Songbirds also have their own space, complete with vegetation, so when they are released they will be familiar with the outdoors.
All of these spaces were designed to keep these animals wild. “I built all these pens bigger than they are required to be because that gives the animals the best survival rate when they are released,” said Mark. “And the goal is to keep them wild, with minimal human contact.”
While Mark’s vision and determination have kept him on a steady course, he couldn’t have accomplished what he has without countless hours volunteers have donated, including men from the McNaughton Correctional Facility and WPS employees who have donated money and manpower to get many of the outdoor cages constructed. There have been lots of other citizen volunteers that have come forward also, and donations, at least so far, have seemed to come in just when they are needed.
Mark is the only animal rehabilitator that is licensed in this area to care for all wild creatures. It takes years to gain this knowledge and the certification and licenses to legally rehabilitate wild animals. There is a facility in Antigo that is licensed to rehab raptors, and there’s a rehab facility in Green Bay. The Northwoods Wildlife Center in Minocqua is not licensed to care for such creatures as loons, bears, raptors, coyotes and deer; however, bunnies, squirrels and most rodents can be rehabilitated there legally.
As Mark is quick to point out, wild animals don’t come with health insurance policies, and the costs to feed and house these creatures rises every year. For instance, two years ago a case of fawn formula was $160, today that same case is $240. Mark figures it takes about $3,000 to rehabilitate an orphaned bear cub before it can be released. At this point, Mark and Sharon consider themselves volunteers, but they do pay the interns that come and help every year.
But there are other compensations. One day last week Mark let a garter snake go that had lost its tail when it was dug up by a dog while hibernating. He holds it for a few seconds before gently releasing it on the forest floor. “I know I’ll never be rich doing this,” he said as the snake slithered slowly away. “But there’s my compensation right there-another healthy creature returning back to its habitat.”
Editor’s note: The website for Wild Instincts is wildinstincts.com. With spring upon us, more wild animals will be visible, especially babies. Mark advises before touching any wild creature to call the center for advice first. The phone numbers are (715) 490-2727 or (715) 362-WILD (9453) and they are answered 24 hours a day. For more information on wish list items, check out the website. Monetary donations can be sent to Wild Instincts, 4621 Apperson Dr., Rhinelander, WI 54501.
Associate Editor Mary Ann Doyle is available at firstname.lastname@example.org.