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Wildlife rescue groups remain busy after Hurricane Ian

Hand holding baby squirrel.
Cathy Carter
WUSF Public Media
Some baby animals were blown out of their nests.

Organizations across Southwest Florida have been taking in animals that were injured or abandoned during the category 4 storm.

More than 200 animals affected by Hurricane Ian made their way to Wildlife Inc., a nonprofit rescue group on Anna Maria Island.

Some animals were blown out of their nests or injured by falling debris.

The day after the storm hit, Phillip DeVona of Sarasota was in his backyard picking up tree branches when he came across a stunned baby bunny.

'I don't know anything about bunnies." he said. "I never thought I would have a bunny. I didn't think I would fall in love with a bunny like I did."

Baby bunny with a peice of romaine lettuce
Cathy Carter
After Hurricane Ian, Wildlife Inc. is one of the few rescues operating in the region.

So much so, that DeVona took the baby animal inside his house and fed it milk with a syringe for close to two weeks. But when the bunny started jumping around, DeVona realized it wasn't fair to keep the animal in captivity, so he brought it to Wildlife, Inc. Rehabilitation Center in Bradenton Beach.

But he says it wasn't an easy decision.

"Everything I had read was wild bunnies will not build a bond with a human," he said. Well, that's wrong. Because it happened."

Volunteer Krista Carpenter says it’s not unusual for people to become emotional when surrendering a rescue to the nonprofit group.

"We have people coming all the way from Fort Myers, just to try and save the life of a helpless little squirrel, "she said. "They kept them in their shirt just to keep them warm. It's not that that's a special person. That's a person that's a human-- that cares, that has compassion."

Woman in blue shirt and curly hair smiles and holds baby skunk.
Cathy Carter
Volunteer Krista Carpenter with one of the many baby skunks brought to the rescue organization after Hurricane Ian.

Carpenter says the organization receieved more than 200 creatures after the storm, including birds, baby squirrels, possums and bunnies from as far away as Fort Myers and Port Charlotte – both areas hit hard by Ian.

As soon as the bridge to Anna Maria Island opened back up after the storm, a steady stream of people were bringing in injured animals.

"When you find an animal that's injured or hurt, alone, scared, the human factor kicks in, the heart," said Carpenter. "This is something that's helpless and every rescue is special, every time we have to euthanize is painful. Every release is joyful."

After Hurricane Ian, Wildlife Inc. is one of the few rescues operating in the region. Many others remain closed due to damage to their facilities from the storm.

The center is Manatee County's only licensed wildlife rehabilitation facility.

It usually takes about 4 to 6 weeks for a rescue to be released back into the wild.

As a reporter, my goal is to tell a story that moves you in some way. To me, the best way to do that begins with listening. Talking to people about their lives and the issues they care about is my favorite part of the job.