By Staci Engman
“This is our little heaven. Haven for them, heaven for us,” said Josie Karam, a certified wildlife rescuer for Second Chance Wildlife Rescue (SCWR) of the sick, orphaned or injured animals she and other dedicated volunteers rehabilitate. The organization, the largest wildlife rescue facility in West Texas, is located on seven-rugged acres and a federally protected wetland in Vinton.
After decades of using their own homes in their rescue efforts, the SCWR volunteers acquired the property last April. They are ecstatic to be operating out of one location with the capacity to rehabilitate an unlimited number and variety of species. The property consists of a spacious 100-year-old hacienda, an adjacent garage, a 10-stall barn, and plenty of open space. They’ve already begun to convert the residence into a full-scale, state-of-the-art animal hospital and plan to clear the land for more aviaries, flight cages for birds, and mammal enclosures, to add to the few already there.
While SCWR has long been well-known throughout the region, Karam, one of its founders and current president, is eager to get the word out about the new location in the hopes of growing the organization and attracting more volunteers and donors. Her focus is to better inform the public about the plight of wildlife and the urgent need for conservation.
“Listen to this statistic,” Karam said. “In the last 40 years we have lost 50 percent of wildlife. Fifty percent! So does that mean, if we keep this up, in the next 40 years, we will have no wildlife except in zoos?”
Her passion and determination are predicated on her love for animals and the desire to improve their odds.
“Everything’s going against wildlife,” Karam said. “Everything. I don’t think it’s going to get better because we are not going to stop building. We’ve over-inhabited the Earth, basically…. And that’s why I have such a passion for trying to save (wildlife)…. I figure if I can save a few, they’ll go out there and they’ll propagate. And maybe that will help a little bit, but we’re not saving enough of them.”
Karam, who was trained almost 20 years ago in Albuquerque by the International Wildlife Rehabilitation Council, has some heartwarming success stories. One is about a beaver with two broken hips and a deep laceration on his back who, after six weeks of rehabilitation in a plastic kiddie pool, indicated by trying to escape that he could sense the water in a canal near Karma’s home. When she opened his carrier to release him there, he scurried to the canal and swam away “just like a ballerina,” she said.
Karam’s other favorite rescue story is most recent. A deer that she named Habib, Arabic for darling or dear, had been taken away by a woman when he was only a day old after his mother momentarily left him to find food. The woman took him home with her, fed him cow’s milk and allowed her children to play with him like a dog. By the time Karam got him, he was in shock, severely malnourished and near death. It was too late to reunite him with his herd, but under Karam’s care, Habib is now a happy, healthy, and playful five-month-old and has a goat pal named Bella to keep him company.
Habib’s story is one that emphasizes the importance of educating the public about wildlife. Karam notes that people are often oblivious to the harm they cause wildlife, even when they mean well. She encourages people to contact SCWR for advice if they spot a baby bird that is out of its nest or if they encounter an ill, injured or orphaned animal. The organization also provides tours of the property and visits schools to teach children about wildlife.
The new location makes more success stories like the beaver and Habib possible, but much more work still needs to be done. On the horizon are intake and triage rooms in the hacienda and an ICU in the adjacent building. SCWR would like to have a veterinarian on site as often as needed, even on a rotating basis.
SCWR also needs builders, plumbers, electricians and volunteers to build more aviaries and animal enclosures. They will gladly name the structures after anyone who is generously willing to sponsor one, such as the existing McNamee Building which will house the ICU; and the Eagle Scout Project Mammal Enclosure that credits the troop that volunteered their time and skill to build it.
Everything is properly managed by a board of directors now that SCWR is in a public facility. All this has expanded the breadth of what SCWR can accomplish. The possibilities are endless. Karam envisions having raptor, bird of prey, aviaries; reptile cages; enclosures for bobcats, wolves, and other mammals; and an enclosure for water fowl in the wetland, among other things for the sake of all the wildlife in need.
Karam’s credentials qualify her to train other aspiring wildlife rescuers and to pass the torch into perpetuity. SCWR offers yearly training sessions for those at least 18 years of age and covers everything from the legalities of wildlife rescue to how to handle wild birds and mammals and provide them basic medical care.
As a registered non-profit, 501c3 organization, SCWR is truly appreciative of all donors who make what they do possible. They give special thanks to the El Paso Community Foundation and other grantors for their generosity.
The animals inspire and keep Karam going. “They’re grateful,” she said. “They don’t know how to express it, but they’re grateful. They’re receptive to treatment and have a very strong survival instinct. They just fight and fight and fight to live and never give up. To be able to provide them a second chance [to live] has been one of the greatest experiences of my life. The joy they feel when released (back into the wild) is palpable.”
For more information or to find out how you can help, visit secondchancewildliferescue.org. or call (915) 920-7867. To volunteer, call (915) 373-0344.