Ed and Gail Straight have been rescuing wildlife since 1988. From baby squirrels to full-grown bobcats, the Straights receive calls to catch animals, nurse them back to health and release them into the wild through their nonprofit Wildlife Inc. The center, run out of their house, mostly on donations and grants, has more than 15 volunteers and trained vets assisting them. “It began as a little hobby for my wife and me the first few years,” says Ed Straight, whose first career was saving people as the former chief of Manatee County’s Emergency Medical Services. “Now we are one of the few centers in the area; people consider us five-star.”
Since 1988, Wildlife Inc. has rescued more than 50,000 wild animals. In 2019, 3,000 rescues were performed, and about 80 percent of those were released into the wild. The center receives 4,000 rescue calls per year. The survival rate is higher for orphaned animals over injured ones.
About 100 squirrels are rescued each year, with 300 rescued in 24 hours during a tropical storm in 2001. “The wind blows them out of their nests,” says Straight. Squirrels are fed with a 1 cc syringe and nipple attachment until they are big enough to feed from a bottle. “As soon as we stop hand feeding them, we don’t touch them anymore,” says Straight. “We wean them off of being handled so they become wild again.”
Birds of Prey
“These are our most expensive animals,” says Straight. The center spends $1,500 for orders of frozen rats (birds’ preferred food choice), sometimes every two weeks. Birds unable to live in the wild are kept by the center for educational purposes. One barred owl, named E.T., has been with Wildlife Inc. for 17 years. E.T. and several other owls are considered “animal ambassadors,” teaching the public about wildlife rescue.
Food for Thought
The center spends $80-$100 in milk per month for rescued baby mammals. Deer can drink goat’s milk, and otters, raccoons and squirrels drink special powdered milk from five-gallon cans, ordered in bulk. Cow’s milk is indigestible to most wild animals. The annual food budget for the center is about $100,000.
Wildlife Inc. people are known as otter gurus, teaching baby otters to swim and hunt fish in a plastic kiddie pool and the supervised pond near the center. But don’t let cute fool you. Otters have sharp teeth and are incredibly smart, making them difficult to catch and release. “They can be very temperamental,” says Straight. “But they can be released after two months, depending on swimming progress.”
Rescuing wildlife requires state and federal licensing. The Straights are licensed by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, which also provides the center with fish confiscated from illegal catches in the Gulf. If anything, land or sea, is rescued illegally in Manatee County, the commission refers the public to Wildlife Inc.
How to Help
“If you find a wild animal in need, do not feed it,” says Straight. “Get a safe, warm container to put it in, and call a rescue center.” Most mammals can be contained in a box; however, the center will do rescue calls if the public is unable to catch on their own. Always approach wild animals with caution.
The center runs on grants and donations to pay for medical equipment and costs. To donate, visit Wildlife Inc.’s website at wildlifeinc.org.