South Plains Wildlife Rehabilitation Center

The South Plains Wildlife Rehabilitation Center helps injured or orphaned animals, like opossums, and nurses them back to health. The center opened in 1988 and accepts Texas Tech students as interns.

When local wildlife is injured or orphaned, the South Plains Wildlife Rehabilitation Center works to return individuals back to the wild after a recovery process.

Carol Lee, the founder of SPWRC, created the center in 1988.

“I was working for a vet at the time, and a lot of people were bringing in baby birds that would go to the back to be put to sleep because they’re so time consuming,” she said. “I started taking them home, then one thing led to another and I got my permit. We bought the wildlife center property, and the rest is history.”

Wildlife rehabilitation permits are required by Texas Parks and Wildlife, according to the TPW website, and the department inspects the facilities prior to awarding a permit.

Gail Barnes, the education and junior volunteer coordinator for SPWRC, has been a full-time volunteer at the center for 15 years and has her rehabilitation permit along with Lee.

“Our greatest need is in the spring and summer because it’s baby season,” she said. “We need a lot of people. You have to be able to multitask.”

The center takes in between 2,500 and 3,000 injured or orphaned animals every year, Barnes said, and approximately 75 percent of those animals come to the center between April and October.

The rehabilitation center only has two paid workers, and Barnes said it relies on volunteers and interns to carry out its work because it receives no state funding.

“In 1990, I came down to (Texas Tech) to talk to Dr. Nancy Matthews,” Lee said. “I wasn’t there to ask for money. I was there to ask for help. She told me, ‘Let’s start an internship program.’”

The first semester, six Tech students interned at the center, Lee said, and there are currently 22 interns from Tech and West Texas A&M.

Students who intern for university credit must complete 100 volunteer hours at the center, and Barnes said they earn three credit hours at the end of the semester.

“They have to field the phone calls and talk to people about wildlife problems in the area,” Barnes said. “We educate people, and we take our animals to the vet. We’ve worked with veterinarians over the years, so we know how to stabilize an animal.”

All the animals have a specific feeding schedule, and Barnes said the baby birds have to be fed every 30 minutes and the baby squirrels are fed every three hours.

Katherine Brackman, a sophomore natural resources management major from Bedford, started volunteering at the rehabilitation center this semester.

“The baby birds have started to see us like their moms, so they get all excited when we come in,” she said. “We have to feed them with a syringe, so sometimes it’s difficult to keep them still long enough to put it in their mouths. I really enjoy working with all the animals.”

The center also has an educational outreach program, and Barnes says she travels around a 250-mile radius to give approximately 110 presentations a year to different groups.

Interns travel with Barnes to educational presentations, and they bring a variety of animals such as owls, birds of prey, a tortoise and various mammals.

“You talk about the species and about how animals are part of our natural resources,” Barnes said. “You’re talking to our future generations who have to take care of these resources. You want them to be knowledgeable about the laws that protect them.”

Anyone can volunteer or apply for an internship at the center, he said, and the center also has a junior volunteer program for kids ages 12 through 17. To work with animals like bobcats and badgers, volunteers must get a rabies shot.

The rehabilitation center is open 365 days a year during daylight hours, and Barnes said the center could always use more help and donations such as paper towels and Dawn dish soap.

“It takes a special person and a special commitment to do what we do,” Barnes said. “It’s very time consuming. It’s not a typical job. A lot of our interns tell us that when they get out there, it’s like an addiction. They come out and they feel so relaxed once they start working with the animals.”

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