Rainy Day at the Wildlife Center

It’s a rainy day in the Perkins Wildlife Center.  Not too many visitors, but there are some, making use of the transparent umbrellas the Museum provides for days like this.  In a kind of alchemy, the rain has transformed the bark of the hundred-year-old beech trees from pewter gray to the worn bronze of a Buddhist temple bell. The surface of the water in the wetlands area and the otter pool is alive with stippling raindrops. Tall flora in the woods garden bend low over the path under the weight of accumulated moisture, applying damp brush strokes to visitors’ hips and arms.

The rain has made the dark channel of fur along Ember’s back even more pronounced as she trots her mud-caked feet through the puddles, chasing after her coyote brothers. Over near the Aviary, Sunny and Cloudy, the barred owls, stand resolute on their perches, ignoring the shelter provided for just such a day. A small fluff and twitter shakes off the rain from time to time, then they settle and preen the moisture from their feathers.

Coyotes Tex, Red and Ember (l-r) on the roof of a den at the Wildlife Center

The animals don’t mind the rain – or the snow.  Scarlet the red fox curls like a furry crustacean on her favorite high platform regardless of the weather; panting in the blazing sun, frosted under an inch of snow or, like today, occasionally stretching, shaking off the drops in a mini-shower of her own, then settling right back into her curl. The otters probably don’t even know it’s raining – they’re almost always wet anyway.

River Otters in the Wildlife Center

The Museum works hard to give the best life it can to these rescued, injured or otherwise survival-impaired creatures. Every day, in the sylvan, generously designed Wildlife Center, the staff invests their care and expertise to make the animals’ lives as rich and natural as possible, at the same time providing all that is needed for their health and long life.

We know these particular creatures could not live out there in the wild.  But one cannot help but wonder if they have a sense of their own fragility. While the animals don’t mind the rain or snow, I wonder if they mind the wire net and sweet-scented wood of their enclosures.

I’ve often thought that compassion for animals is an easier emotion to summon up and even feel more deeply than what we feel for many people. I have thought this is because people have the potential to understand and adjust to what hurts or distresses, and to whatever extent possible, choose to make the effort to rise above it.  We think animals are less able – maybe unable – to do this.  They can adjust, but can they understand? Can they understand that, because their wing is injured or their eye occluded or a foot was lost to a steel trap that they are better off sequestered here? Certainly, in captivity, they have no creative choices or capacity to change their situation. If they did, I wonder, would they choose to stay and be safe? Would they choose our interventions over letting nature take its course – no matter how hard or harsh that course might be?

Scarlet

We will never know what the animals think about our caring for them.  But it seems there is evidence that many of them do what is in their nature to do to remain as wild and independent as possible. Scarlet chooses the open air – the high exposed platform in her enclosure, to the cozy den provided for her.  The coyotes sleep on top of their dens, or under trees – never inside, no matter how cold or wet.  The raptors ruffle and preen through the storm, high in their trees and perches, emblems of endurance and acceptance.

And I wonder, as I wander along the winding paths of the Center, about what they are thinking and hope, if perhaps they are not happy, then at least they are content.

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