OUTDOORS Hatteras Island Wildlife Rehab
Photo & Story by Daniel Barlow When Lou Browning moved to Hatteras Island
30 years ago, he never expected to be rehabilitating cold-shocked sea turtles and removing hundreds
of parasites from anemic ospreys. Now covering an area that spans Cape Hatteras to as far north as Corolla, Browning is the sole operator of Hatteras Island Wildlife Rehabilitation, a career he started 10 years ago that could easily warrant an entire team.
“Well, career, I don’t know if that’s the right word; it’s a hobby
that’s gotten out of hand,” says Browning as he puts away his red- tailed hawk, Moyock.
He has his hands full, receiving an average of 20 to 50 calls per day about animals.
“I get them mostly from the beaches, but I’ve had them from
Virginia, even California,” Browning says. “People that are just frustrated and can’t find someone wherever they are.”
His work with animals began during his time at the North
Carolina Aquarium where he was a volunteer diver for eight years. “During the latter part of that I got interested in wildlife rehab,” he says. “I was fortunate enough to know Elizabeth Hanrahan, a wildlife rehabilitator on Ocracoke.”
Lou Browning and his red-tailed hawk Moyock.
Suddenly, the need for a rehab center in Hatteras became apparent to Browning, but the process in becoming a rehabilitator was difficult. Even more crucial was the need for a facility that could accommodate bird species.
“All of a sudden there was a void here for
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rehabilitators,” Browning says. “It takes quite a lot to do migratory birds, and a mammal permit is easier to get. There are a lot of people who do mammals; but not many people who do birds, and birds are a greater calling.”
Training under Hanrahan, while also jumping
through the state and federal hoops necessary to practice rehabilitation, Browning became the only rehabilitator in a nearly 100-mile stretch of land qualified to care for migratory birds, as well as other species. It’s a highly demanding job with little tangible reward, but he continues to serve the fauna of the Outer Banks without question.
“The most expensive part of rehabilitation for FOUL WEATHER EQUINE APPAREL
me is travel,” Browning says. “I’ll get four or five calls a day from Duck, and I can’t drive to Duck four or five times a day. I honestly can’t afford to do it every day. I typically have several animals in my care, and for me to neglect them to go get other animals is unethical.”
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Caring for several animals at once while
responding to calls up and down the beach is certainly not easy, but Browning says the biggest challenge facing the operation is funding. A 501(c) nonprofit organization, the center is not funded by the state or federal government. This means all travel expenses, lab work costs, facility building and maintenance for Hatteras Island Wildlife Rehab comes from charitable contributions, or more often, out of Browning’s own pocket.
“I’m just kind of living off savings until I go bankrupt,” Browning says. “It’s a difficult situation. I don’t make money, I only spend money at this point.”
According to Browning, the money for animals
like birds and reptiles just isn’t available like it is for more noticeable species.
“There’s money for rescue of domestic animals, big cats, primates—you can get public relations with movie stars who want to get their pictures taken with them,” he says. “They can afford to donate large dollars, but for wildlife, non-big, beautiful, furry wildlife, we’re limited.”
Browning believes this is the main reason full-
time rehabilitators are so few and far between in North Carolina. Rehabilitation centers simply can’t sustain themselves without substantial funding. In fact, there is only one major rehab center for birds in the state—the Carolina Raptor Center in Huntersville, which is privately funded.
The most beneficial addition to Hatteras
Island Wildlife Rehab would be a large, 100-foot flight cage for the 175 to 300 migratory birds he attends to annually. Building this structure to withstand the occasional high storm winds of the island would cost between $75,000 and $100,000, money the organization just doesn’t have. A more viable option, Browning says, might be to repurpose an already-existing structure.
“Honestly what would make the best flight
structures is one of these Wings stores,” he says. “They’re the best built structures on the county— you could tear out some of the roof paneling and let sunlight stream in. It would be perfect.”
To make donations, visit http://hiwr.us
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