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Committed To Wildlife Care

Committed To Wildlife CareThe Wildlife Clinic at the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine has been providing emergency care to wild animals in New England for more than two decades.

No. Grafton, Mass. [10.10.06] Dr. Mark Pokras, director of the Wildlife Clinic at the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University, can honestly say that he loves his work—even after more than two decades on the job. “Each species has a magic of its own,” he recently told the Worcester Telegram & Gazette. “To get up close and see how they see the world, it’s exciting.”

Pokras was still a veterinary student at Tufts when he joined the staff of the newly opened clinic in 1983. Its goal was to provide emergency care to injured wild animals and to extend the institution’s teaching, research and service programs to include New England's wildlife. Through the years, Pokras has treated a wide range of patients and seen a shift in the clinic’s clientele.

“For the most part, the clinic treats birds and critters native to New England,” the Telegram & Gazette reported. “It has hosted bear cubs, a moose calf born on a highway, a 13-pound bobcat taken from a dorm room at Northeastern University and a coyote hit by a car on Storrow Drive in Boston.”

A change that Pokras has seen over the years in New England is a decline of “specialized species that require specific types of food and habitats,” according to the Telegram & Gazette. These species, which include the cottontail rabbit, the piping plover and the roseate tern, are less common today because “humans have altered and diminished those habitats,” the newspaper reported.

Animals like white-tailed deer, raccoons, coyotes and skunks—which are “generalists” that can adapt to different habitats and survive by eating a range of foods—are far more prevalent in New England today, Pokras explained.

“Coyotes eat both rats and apples,” Pokras told the Telegram & Gazette. “They live in the city or in the country. By changing the environment to suit us, we’re changing the species that are out there.”

Dr. Allen T. Rutberg, a research assistant professor in the department of environmental and population health at the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine, pointed out that bears and moose have also been impacted by changing environments.

“We wiped out bears, [but] they’re recovering,” Rutberg told the Telegram & Gazette, crediting the regrowth of forests with the burst in their population. “They’re coming from the Berkshires and northwest New Jersey, and they’re doing quite well.”

So well, Rutberg explained, that people may start to see them in some unusual places. “A homestead for a bear is eight square miles,” he told the Telegram & Gazette. “A bear looking for a place to live will wander anywhere.”

While the clinic treats large and small mammals ranging from bears to porcupines, its typical patients are much smaller and include raptors, songbirds, ducks, turtles and snakes.

“The goal is to return every animal to the wild,” the Telegram & Gazette reported. “The ones that are treated usually survive and are turned over to wildlife rehabilitators, who help the animals make the transition back to their natural habitats.”

The clinic’s work, Pokras explained to the newspaper, doesn’t end with treating animals. Its seven-person staff also works to educate people about the natural world and encourage them to connect with it.

“In terms of conservation, you’ve got to get people to care,” Pokras told the Telegram & Gazette. “If they hear over and over that wildlife doesn’t matter, pretty soon they don’t care. Part of what we do is to help people be more knowledgeable about and empathetic with the animals we share the world with.”

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