Chalfont, Pennsylvania, an hour outside of Philadelphia, is a lucky place to be a baby squirrel in need. It’s home to one of the oldest wildlife rescues in the U.S., the Aark Wildlife Rehabilitation and Education Center.
Over the course of the year, Aark takes in more than 5200 animals, focusing its efforts on anything wild, native, and in need. That means everything from sick hawks to injured raccoons to orphaned squirrels, rabbits, and fawns.
Aark doesn’t see its mission as saving the environment as much as helping both four-legged and two-legged creatures deal with how human activity affects animal habitats. “As human beings encroach more and more on their habitats, they get involved with us in often not-good ways,” Aark’s executive director, Leah Stallings, tells mental_floss. “So instead of the squirrel building the nest in the tree, they build it in the house—because the house is where the tree used to be. And then people have squirrels living in their ceiling.”
Neither the people nor the squirrels win in that kind of situation. “It’s not really the people’s fault, but it isn’t really the animal's, either,” she explains. Aark can help alleviate the problem for both. “There’s no government place where you can take something like that—that’s where we come in.”
Having critical care centers for wildlife that has been affected by human activity—whether it’s a songbird with a broken wing or a raccoon that’s been orphaned after its mother got hit by a car—gives the animals a second chance at life, and the people who are desperate to help, but don’t know a place to go.
Aark isn’t the only center of this kind—but since wildlife rehabilitation centers are not particularly abundant, Aark has more than its fair share of furry and feathered clients. According to Stallings, people drive up to two hours to bring injured and sick animals to the clinic. So to make room for more animals, the center is embarking on an ambitious expansion plan that includes fundraising $300,000.
The money will go toward more than tripling the rehab center’s space, expanding it from 1000 square feet to 3600 square feet. As is, the center—which was founded in 1979 by Stallings’s mother—has a critical care room where young animals that need to be fed around the clock or animals that need constant medical attention can be housed, as well as a separate room for animals that are known to transmit rabies (like raccoons). Then the center has what it calls a “step-down unit,” a covered, outdoor area where animals who are on the mend can reacclimate to life outdoors without being completely exposed, as well as an actual outdoor area for animals that are almost ready for release.
Currently, the center can only support so many animals, both because they don’t have the room to house them safely and hygienically, and because they don’t have the room for any more volunteers. The expanded building will make it a lot easier for 50 to 75 baby raccoons to run around in one room without getting each other sick, and the center will be able to bring in two or three more volunteers per shift.
Once Aark raises the $300,000 necessary for its expansion, Stallings hopes to break ground on the new construction in October and open up the new clinic by April 1, 2018. Aark is open every day of the year, 24 hours a day, and in the busy months of May and June, it may take in as many as 20 or 30 animals per day. So while the construction timeline may be ambitious, speed is necessary. “We have to finish it during the off season,” Stallings says. “I have never closed—not one day.”