THE HUTCHINSON ZOO / Rehab program a hidden gem of Reno County

Kiley Buggeln remembers after she started working at the Hutch?inson Zoo there was a bald eagle that came in; someone had found the bird in a wheat field, and it was very weak.

?And we just gave supportive care ? fluids, kept it warm,? said Buggeln, zoo curator, adding they also kept it calm and quiet.

She said the zoo releases back into the wild 40 percent to 50 percent of the animals it receives in its rehabilitation program, which is a high percentage.

?An important function of our zoo is helping orphaned and injured animals through our rehabilitation program,? according to the zoo website. ?Injured wild animals can be brought to the zoo, where they are nursed back to health. Depending on the injuries, they may be released in the wild or retained at the zoo if not releasable.?

Each year, the zoo averages about 500 animals that need rehabilitation. These include a variety of species, such as squirrels, rabbits and birds. They can be animals the dog dug up, the cat dragged in, and birds falling out of trees or ones with broken wings, zoo director John Wright said.

Some years they get a lot of squirrels, and sometimes there?s quite a few rabbits kindhearted souls bring in. The type of animal they receive the most varies from year to year, Wright said.

Sometimes, the animals are returned to the wild, but other times they have to be euthanized ?if they?re not treatable,? Wright said. ?Sometimes wings get shattered, and sometimes you have to make that decision if they will really recover or not.?

Regular citizens and city staff bring in animals needing help.; 60 percent come from within Reno County.

?(It) would help to get support from neighboring counties,? Wright said. ?It is a costly component that we do.?

The cost to run the zoo is paid by the city of Hutchin?son, and part of that funding is for the rehab program. Sometimes businesses help. For example, Cargill donated $10,000 for the Cargill Rehabilitation Center, which was built in 2011. But even before that building was erected, the zoo did rehabilitation on wild animals.

?This has given us a facility to do that so much better,? Wright said.

In addition, Enel Green Power and RES America Construction Inc. donated $10,000 for the rehab program, according to the zoo website.

The zoo also will accept financial donations for the program. People wishing to donate can write ?rehab? on the check and send it to: Hutchinson Zoo, 6 Emerson Loop East, Hutchinson, KS 67501. Donations also may be made at <www.hutchgov.com/egov/apps/payment/center.egov?action=form&item=3&fDD=>.

?It?s a great program to have, and I fully support it,? Wright said, adding they need to continue funding it and they spend $15,000-$20,000 annually just on that program.

The rehab program has one part-time trained specialist, and the zoo could use volunteers to help. As part of the program, they do a great deal of bottle-feeding, and they make an effort to keep the collectionary animals separate from the rehab creatures to limit the ?disease vector,? Wright said.

?When we return them to the wild, we can?t guarantee success,? he said, adding they raise the animals enough to return them to nature, and then the animals fend for themselves.

Sometimes, animals that can?t go back into the wild can find a home.

?If we are aware that another institution is looking for a specimen for their collection, we will contact them to see if they would take a non-releasable animal that may otherwise need to be euthanized,? Wright stated.

The zoo takes in for rehab all animals except raccoons, skunks and deer because of the diseases related to them. To his knowledge, Wright said the Hutchinson Zoo is the only place in Kansas with as big a scope in terms of number of species they take in for rehab. Kansas has 13 licensed rehabilitators, including zoos in Emporia and Great Bend.

One thing well-meaning folks should watch out for is bringing in animals that don?t need help.

?When an animal is injured, in danger, cold, dehydrated or becoming weak, an animal needs to be in the care of someone experienced,? the zoo website states. ?But young animals that are seen away from their parents don?t necessarily need your help, especially if they are warm and appear active, healthy and alert.?

The animal?s parent(s) might be close by and out of sight.

People are asked to call the zoo at 620-694-2693 before handling or transporting wildlife.

?Baby animals and birds must be given the opportunity to be put back with their parents, if possible, before you bring them to the zoo, and we may be able to tell you the best way to do that,? the website states.

In addition to helping individual animals, the Hutch Zoo has a hand in conservation.

?Part of a professionally run zoo is to make an impact on animal/habitat conservation,? Wright stated. ?Other zoos do conservation on a worldwide aspect. The fact that we are a mostly native-species zoo allow us to focus on local wildlife conservation. The rehabilitation program allows us to save local wildlife and return them to the wild, thus conserving those species.?

Zoos have an important impact on the world. If it weren?t for zoos and other conservational entities, some species on the planet would have been lost, Wright said.

In addition, the Hutchin?son Zoo is a community pivot point to raise issues, such as recycling and purchasing sustainable products, like not selling food made with non-sustainable palm oil. In order to grow palm trees for their oil, forests get demolished.

?So we can do our part with the impact of palm oil,? Wright said.

?A lot of people out there don?t get to experience the natural world,? Wright said. ?If they stopped and looked in front of them, they can make a difference. If everyone did a little bit, the combined efforts of those little bits can make a big difference.?

In addition to the rehab program and gift shop, the zoo has certain kinds of animals in its collection.

?The zoo itself focuses on primarily species native to Kansas,? Wright said.

These include white tail deer, mule deer, porcupines, ringtails, bobcats, raccoons, squirrels, raptors, beaver, a black-footed ferret, owls, turtles and reptiles. There?s even a Dino Dig and what appears to be a rope spider web area in which children can play.

At one point, the black-footed ferret was thought to be extinct, but eight were found in Wyoming and bred. Now, one of their descendants is at the Hutchinson Zoo.

Taking care of all this are seven staff members and five seasonal workers. The zoo is looking to hire a full-time educator. The Hutchin?son Zoo is accredited through the Associates of Zoos & Aquariums. About 225 zoos in the country are AZA accredited.

?They say it?s about 10 percent of the related facilities out there,? Wright said.

Other AZA-accredited zoos in the state are the Sedgwick County Zoo, Emporia, Salina?s Rolling Hills, Topeka and Manhat?tan.

Plans at the zoo include the construction of an otter exhibit; the Friends of the Zoo has raised its share, $150,000 of the $300,000 needed for the project. Construction will begin in 2016. The zoo will continue to raise funds for this project so if enhancement options are available, they can be included. In addition, the reptile building will be renovated this year.

Wright said he could see the zoo expanding from having mostly Kansas native animals to North American native, and they could have a red wolf from North Carolina.

An upcoming event, ?2015 Vettes & Harleys at the Hutchinson Zoo,? will raise money for the otter exhibit. The event is presented by the Central Kansas Corvette Association and will be April 25 and 26. Admission is a suggested $5 donation, and children get free train rides with an adult.

For more information, visit hutchgov.com/zoo or visit downtownhutchrodrun.com/zoo to register.

by Wendy Nugent

?