Former Schuylkill Center wildlife rescuer opens new clinic

Rick Schubert, head of a new wildlife clinic in King of Prussia tends to a baby owl.

A baby great horned owl got a second chance at life after it fell out of its nest earlier this month, thanks to the staff and volunteers at the Philadelphia Metro Wildlife Center, 400 DeKalb Pike in King of Prussia, which opened its doors on April 1.

Rick Schubert, executive director of the center and former director of the Wildlife Rehabilitation Center at the Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education (SCEE) in Andorra, said the 18-day-old owlet, patient #0008, had a fractured tibiotarsus (leg) and radius (wing).

“We don’t name our patients because we respect their dignity as wild animals,” he said. “We only refer to them by a number. After the patient’s initial exam, he was treated for dehydration with injections of fluids, and our staff fed him small pieces of a mouse, which he ate ravenously. Then, he was sent to Dr. Len Donato, a veterinarian who does pro bono work for us at Radnor Vet Hospital.”

Schubert, who lives in East Mt. Airy, said Donato performed two surgeries on the owlet, and afterwards it was transferred to Red Creek Wildlife Center in Schuylkill Haven for rehabilitation. Red Creek currently has a baby owl the same age that can be his foster sibling.

“More importantly, this center has a non-releasable Great Horned Owl who will act as a surrogate parent, ensuring that the owl does not imprint on humans,” said Schubert, a trained wildlife rehabilitator who is state and federally licensed and is one of only 34 in Pennsylvania. “Until he is transferred, human contact will be kept at an absolute minimum.”

He explained that baby animals, especially owls, cannot be raised alone by humans, because they are in danger of “imprinting” on humans. They can grow up identifying with humans and will not recognize or be able to interact properly with their own species.

The 1,000 square foot facility, which is equipped with a lobby, office, exam/ICU, small animal nursery, storage room, cleaning room and space for large animal cages, had already treated approximately 50 patients since the Local’s interview with Schubert last week.

Philadelphia Metro Wildlife Center’s current location in King of Prussia is only temporary. Animals that the clinic does not have space for are immediately transferred to other licensed rehabilitation centers in the region like the Aark in Bucks County, Tri-State Bird Rescue in Newark, Del., and Red Creek Wildlife Center.

“Wildlife rehab is a tight, cooperative community,” Schubert said. “The needs of this community are great. There are no other full-time wildlife rehab centers in the area. We knew we had to get something up and running immediately to take care of the influx of hurt animals. We did not want there to be a gap in care. Philadelphia municipal animal control (ACCT), Montgomery County SPCA, Upper Merion Animal Control and the Philadelphia Zoo have all brought us animals already and plan to continue.”

The center recently treated an injured hawk and four owls – three great-horned and a screech. It has also treated squirrels, robins, cardinals, a flicker, ducks, a goose and a pigeon. Schubert, 47, said all the animals were “victims of human impact on the ecosystem.”

“It’s a myth that wildlife will be rejected by their parents if they have had human contact,” he said. Wildlife babies always do better with their own parents. Baby squirrels are a common patient for wildlife rehabilitators because only the mothers care for them as they grow, so if she is killed by a car, trapped, or taken by a hawk, the babies are left alone and will climb out of the nest in search of food. In other cases, a nest may be knocked down by wind; or end up being disturbed by cats or people.

“Unlike birds, mother squirrels have the ability to carry a fallen baby from the ground, back up to the nest in her mouth like a mother cat carries a kitten. If you find an animal you think is an orphan, we ask that you call us at 1-267-416-WILD to explain the situation. Many times, we can coach our callers on how to reunite the baby with its mother.”

Schubert added that the Philadelphia Metro Wildlife Center still is actively looking for a permanent for the center, which he hopes will eventually become “a legacy to pass onto to future generations” and a “cornerstone of wildlife rehabilitation in Pennsylvania.”

“Volunteers are our lifeblood,” he said. “We have 65 volunteers and two veterinarians, all of whom came with us from the ‘old clinic,’ who assist us in transporting, feeding, and caring for all the animals.”

He said that without the support and help of volunteers they would not have been able to rent the temporary facility, set-up or obtain critical supplies such as incubators, medical supplies or cages. In the near future, the center plans to purchase an anesthesia machine.

He said the center is looking for three to 10 acres in the region of Northwest Philadelphia primarily, but are also looking in Montgomery and Delaware Counties. If the conservation nonprofit does have to move farther away to secure sufficient space, it plans to operate a small satellite center in Philadelphia for intake and triage.

For Schubert, healing wild animals is a labor of love.

“From my earliest memories, I have adored animals of every kind and wanted to protect them,” he said.

“Every living thing that moves and acts under its own free will is my passion. These creatures don’t need humans at all. If left alone, they live in harmony with nature and take care of all their own affairs. But when humans encroach on their habitat, when we poison them, shoot them, trap them, when they fall victims to roads and cars and windows and domestic pets and all the trappings of human civilization, that’s when they need a voice. Wildlife rehabbers fill that role. We don’t interfere, we un-interfere, we give them back the lives and freedom that are theirs by natural law.”

The Philadelphia Metro Wildlife Center is open 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. seven days a week. For more information or to make a donation, visit the center’s website.