A pair of wolves at Wildlife Images sniff a donated Christmas tree. [courtesy photo]

Animals Hula Hoop into the New Year

Christmas is in the rear-view mirror and fading fast, but the magic of the holiday lingers at Wildlife Images Rehabilitation and Education Center in Merlin.

The center accepts Christmas tree donations every year, because the animals love them, and the trees are still providing a touch of cheer.

“The Christmas tree drive was a huge success,” said Development Director Erin Maxson, noting that Wildlife Images received 100 trees, and the center currently has 116 “residents.”

The “residents” are sick, injured or orphaned wildlife undergoing rehabilitation, including wolves, weasels, eagles, foxes, bobcats, bears, cougars, raccoons and more. The animals love playing in the trees, rubbing themselves, experiencing the aromas and using all of their senses.

The tree donations are part of what Wildlife Images calls its “enrichment” program. Basically it comes down to the idea that anything that helps an animal use its senses is a good thing.

Maxson recounts a story of two wolf pups who had never seen a Christmas tree. She said they were transfixed by “the mix of nature and human smells, because of course it’s been in the family room.”

Though the Christmas tree drive is over until next year, there are many ways to give these recovering animals the gift of enrichment, Maxson notes. The center accepts items ranging from pumpkins to wind chimes, and everything is appreciated, she said.

In the winter months, Wildlife Images is looking for items such as fleece blankets, no shut-off heating pads, infrared heat bulbs (250 watts), hoods for heat lamps, hard plastic heating pads and mats (medium to large dog size), as well as cedar, pine and aspen bedding.

The center always has an appetite for animal food, such as dry dog food (the center goes through tens of thousands of pounds a year), birdseed (mixed seed, finch seed, thistle seed, safflower seed and sunflower seed), mealworms, crickets, waxworms, chicken starter, baby food (fruit, vegetable and meat varieties), kitten milk replacer (powder) and Esbilac puppy milk replacer.

For the enrichment program, the center accepts a wide range of items to stimulate animals and satisfy their curiosity. The list includes Hula Hoops, pool toys, food coloring, peanut butter, lotions, bubbles, radios, CD players, baby monitors, wind chimes, mirrors, flashlights, colored bulbs and laser pointers.

A longer list of items can be found on the center's “Wishes for Wildlife” page at www.wildlifeimages.org/give/wishes-for-wildlife.

Founded as a nonprofit in 1981 by wildlife rehabilitator J. David Siddon, the facility was created to provide care and treatment for sick, injured and orphaned wildlife. Wildlife Images has since expanded to provide educational programs on wildlife, conservation and the environment to schools, organizations and the general public.

— Jefferson Reeder is a freelance writer living in Medford. Reach him at jeffersonreeder@hotmail.com.

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