Meet the Wildlife Warriors – a volunteer group of animal lovers who rescue all creatures great and small.
These orphaned baby badgers, hares, songbirds, owl chicks, a dormouse and fox cub are among thousands of wild creatures saved by the volunteers at the Kildare Animal Foundation (KAF).
There was a baby boom at their rescue centre just outside Kildare town when the Sunday World dropped in this week.
And I got a creche course in handling the boisterous babies.
A badger and hare snuggled up to me and tried to climb into my hair, while the owls seemed to think I was their mammy as they cheeped and stared at me with their big yellow eyes.
However, animal rehabilitator Dan Donaher warned: “They may look cute and cuddly, but these are wild animals and we’ll have to release them into the wild when they’re independent. If they get too used to humans, they’ll approach people – and not everyone will be kind to them.”
Still, the baby owls acted as if they were right at home as they had a rare owl bop on the kitchen table.
It was way past their bedtime so it was no wonder they acted as if they were in a nightclub.
“Daytime for them is night, that’s when they really wake up and make a lot of noise,” said Dan.
None of that bothers their room-mates the badgers and fox, but the others – two thrushes, two wood pigeons, two fancy pigeons and a blackbird – get their revenge at sunrise as they belt out the dawn chorus.
“It’s mad in here when they’re all making a racket,” Dan laughed.
Two of the owls were found three weeks ago in a garden in nearby Allenwood.
“Their nest must have been knocked out of the tree in the high winds. They would have perished because they couldn’t feed themselves – they were just hatched. We’ll keep them until they are 10 or 11 weeks old, when they should be independent.”
The baby girl badger was found in Monaghan.
“Someone was driving and found a dead mother badger and her live cubs. This one’s sister didn’t survive. The other two badgers were found by a man in Kilkenny. We think their mother died in a snare. The State culls them because they are blamed for spreading TB to cattle.”
The nearly-bald baby wood pigeons, meanwhile, were making themselves right at home in a knitted nest, which looked like an upside-down tea cosy.
“People make these lovely knitted nests for us. They’re perfect for newborn chicks,” smiled Dan.
While these creatures’ natural habitats are hedgerows, fields and woodlands, home at present is a rather grand period house on seven acres.
Owner Geraldine O’Hanlon has been sharing her home with the wild animals, as well as dogs and cats, for the past 21 years – and it’s usually a full house.
“At any one time, we would have over 120 animals here – we’ve even had wild deer and goats. Wild animals are sent to us from all over the country, because there aren’t enough people who know how to care for wild animals and other rescue centres pass them on to us,” said Dan.
They rely entirely on donations from the public and fundraising events to feed the creatures.
Dan, who was trained at
Wildlife Rehabilitation Ireland in Co. Meath, volunteers at the KAF along with locals John Dowling (47), Jeff Smith (27), Paul McFeeley(27), Danielle O’Neill, and work-experience intern Chris Hamilton (16).
While it’s a labour of love for these volunteers, they are also playing an important role in saving Ireland’s native species.
“We have a licence for each animal from the Parks and Wildlife service – that’s how important these animals are to the country,” said Dan.
As well as wild creatures, they also have cats and dogs, including the grand old lady of the kennels, Cherry, a beautiful 16-year-old springer spaniel.
“She was a stray. We found the owners, but they said they were going to have her put down because she has an ear infection and she’s old. So we took her and we’re getting the vet to treat her ear,” said volunteer John Dowling.
Cherry’s kennel-mates range from a gentle mastiff called Clyde to Aria the Jack Russell.
John brings Harvey the Yorkshire Terrier for hydrotherapy at a pool in Blanchardstown every Saturday.
“He has a bad hip, but we’re not sure if it was a congenital problem or if he was injured. He came from a puppy farm.”
John, who has been volunteering at KAF for the past eight years, sometimes takes pets home with him to speed up their recovery.
“I’ve had a few dogs including a lovely collie-Rottweiler cross, but now I’m living in a flat so I just take kittens.”
Paul initially only volunteered to keep Jeff company.
“Now I can see why Jeff loves spending time here. It’s a nice feeling to know you saved an animal’s life.”