RUSSELL — It took only one quick peek from the small kennel before the barn owl escaped its confines and took flight. It stumbled a bit along the ground for a few feet before it ascended and headed for a row of trees nearby.
“It might be a little disoriented from the car ride,” Brendon McCampbell, director of Western Plains Animal Refuge, said as he eyed the spot where it disappeared into the greenery.
The owl had been transported by volunteer Lina Miller on Monday to Russell from Hill City where licensed wildlife rehabilitator Carrie Newell had cared for it. The owl had been found several days before in a pit at a concrete plant, wet and covered with powdery concrete residue.
Newell bathed the bird, including cleaning its eyes, ears and sinus cavity. Since it was otherwise in good health, it was deemed OK for release.
The barn owl is just one of the many animals WPAR and Newell have cared for this year, and they say the numbers are increasing. That inundation — including more unusual animals — are taxing them in both time and money.
McCampbell — who sub-permits under Newell’s license to care for wildlife — attributes the increase to several factors, including a changing climate.
“I don’t have a ton of science to substantiate it, and I don’t know if the public all would agree, but with global climate change, the more intense storms, the more erratic temperature and precipitation patterns I feel have contributed to a larger number of animals coming into us,” he said.
He acknowledged increased awareness of laws concerning wildlife and awareness of WPAR have contributed as well.
State permits — and for some animals federal permits — are required to possess most species of wild animals.
“People are trying to reach out to some sort of rehabilitator rather than taking care of animals themselves,” he said.
“We have also just made more connections with individuals as well as entities ranging from city governments, animal control officers, police departments as well as (Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism) staff,” he said.
“It seems like every year gets a little bit weirder and busier. We’ve had some kind of unusual animals come in over the years that Carrie hasn’t seen in a long time,” McCampbell said.
Over the last year, Newell and McCampbell have treated a pronghorn antelope fawn, pelican, porcupine and even a trumpeter swan.
That’s in addition to the more common baby birds, rabbits, hawks and owls. WPAR also takes in domestic cats and dogs for adoptions.
Working with the wildlife takes special training and more time.
“With wildlife, you have to get trained with every species. They all have their own quirks, their own diets and feeding schedules, so there’s just a lot of training that goes into it,” he said.
Newell is the only state and federally licensed rehabilitator in 28 counties of northwest and north central Kansas.
Volunteers do provide help, but what they can do is limited, McCampbell said.
Flooding in eastern Kansas has also swamped rehabilitators and volunteers in that part of the state, Newell said, further limiting where wildlife can go.
“They’re saying we’ll only take this or that, because they’re overloaded,” she said.
On the financial side, food is a big part of the costs. McCampbell said WPAR has spent more than $1,000 on frozen mice so far this year to feed raptors and carnivores. Powdered formula to feed baby animals can cost $28 a can, Newell said.
“It goes real fast,” she said.