Orphans of the Storm

By staff December 1, 2001

When Tropical Storm Gabrielle blew through last September, downing trees and power lines, hundreds of baby squirrels were blown from their nests as well. Graphic designer Gigi Scott Ortwein, a former art director of SARASOTA Magazine, found two of them-eyes still shut-snuggled in a nest in her back yard after the storm passed. A lover of all animals, Gigi scooped them up and began making phone calls to friends and her veterinarian to find out how she could save them. Her research eventually led to Ed and Gail Straight, the founders of Wildlife Education & Rehabilitation Center, Inc. on Anna Maria, who rehabilitate and then release animals back into the wild.

The Straights had their hands-and their three-car garage-full of injured, orphaned and displaced animals from the storm, including more than 200 squirrels, a baby bobcat, 30 screech owls, 60 baby mourning doves, 30 baby possums and 50 baby raccoons. They taught Gigi how to feed and care for the babies, and stressed that she would need to bring them back to their center to be socialized with other squirrels and weaned from human contact before they could be released. (It's actually illegal for an unlicensed person to release a squirrel back into the wild.)

Undaunted, Gigi woke up several times a night to feed Gabe and Gabby from a syringe with special formula, took them to work, kept them warm on a heating pad and even learned to massage their tiny bodies so that they could excrete properly. Now, of course, she's Mama, and the two babies-whose eyes are wide open now-roll their heads back in utter bliss and burrow into her arms as she rubs their chins. Few mothers relish nighttime feedings for infants or have to regularly massage tiny bodies in order to get digestive systems working, but for Gigi that was painless. "Letting them go is going to be the hard part," she says.

If you find injured or orphaned wildlife, you can contact the Wildlife Education & Rehabilitation Center, Inc. at (941) 778-6324 or through their Web site, For rescue, contact Wildlife Rescue in Bradenton, (941) 750-9453.

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