Caitlyn Campbell said she was up most of the night July 22 because of the storm.
Going into work the next morning at the TreeHouse Wildlife Center in Dow, she expected there would be some tree limbs and debris to clean up. Instead, she was greeted by a collapsed-in fox enclosure, a flooded bird center and a group of panicked volunteers.
Overnight, heavy winds had caused a 30-foot pine tree to crash into the roof covering half of the fox exhibit.
Panic melted to relief once workers found that the three foxes and group of fox kits were unhurt, but there was still the matter of the tree to deal with. The pine had been sheared off by the wind about ten feet from the ground, knocking over fencing and crashing on top of the wood and wire roof. The roof bowed under the weight for a day and then collapsed completely.
The wildlife center, which has 55 permanent and hundreds of recovering birds, mammals or reptiles at its facility, is a non-profit which receives most of its funding from grants and donations. The center, which started in 1979 and is open to the public, rehabilitates sick, injured, and orphaned wildlife and teaches environmental education programs.
The storm damage has created a space and time problem for the facility. The fox kits, who are being fostered by the center’s “famous” resident Chuckles, should be socializing with the other foxes to learn important group skills, but can’t go into the other enclosure due to safety issues.
Campbell said they are looking for construction and financial help so they can get the baby foxes back into their home.
“We want those babies to interact with the other two foxes; it isn’t conducive to their rehabilitation to not have that access,” Campbell said.
In addition to the damaged fox enclosure, rushing rain water flooded the bird’s flight cage and caused water damage to the wood. The floors of the bird’s building, where recovering birds learn to reacclimate to flight, became mud pits.
Because of the flight enclosure damage, falcons, bald eagles, great horned owls and other birds that should be getting their strength up and testing their wings are now stuck inside.
“They should be out there rebuilding muscles and flying, but they can’t because of safety concerns. We don’t want to put a cap on the amount of animals we can take it, but we’re running low on space,” Campbell said. “The damage has caused a kind of backup.”
While tending to their own animals, Wildlife workers were also bombarded by other creatures injured or displaced by the storm. The facility took in about 20 baby squirrels within a few days, all of them requiring incubation and bottle feeding.
The facility currently has two interns, six paid staff members and a number of volunteers with fluctuating hours. Between caring for animals and trying to clean up the storm’s mess, workers have had a long week.
On Thursday, the center started to receive calls from people offering to help by donating their time or money.
“We’re still trying to landscape and clean up, so anything people can do would help,” Kelly Vandersand, fundraiser coordinator, said.
Campbell said she doesn’t know the exact price tag of the storm’s havoc, but she knows it will cost at least several thousand dollars to not only fix the exhibits, but also fortify them against future storms.
“We need to get this fixed quickly,” Campbell said. “Another storm here could cause extensive issues.”
If you have construction experience and want to volunteer, the clinic can be reached at (618) 466-2990. Donations can be sent via PayPal on their website or mailed to the center at 23956 Green Acres Rd. Dow, IL 62022.