NEW ROCHELLE, NY — How often does one get to meet an albino wallaby? The students in the Isaac E. Young Middle School Wildlife Rehabilitators in Training Club have.
Two animal experts stopped by in recent months to introduce the 30-plus club members to the rare, all-white marsupial and a host of other creatures, including pigeons, a hedgehog, several species of monkeys, a chinchilla and a large – and loud – bird from Australia called a kookaburra.
The far-flung friends visited the club with human companions from Animal Nation in Rye and Noah’s Park Retreat in Goshen, N.Y.
But it is more than rarities and denizens of distant lands that hold the students’ attentions. The students are also learning how to help creatures more common to our area, including the ubiquitous eastern gray squirrels. At the end of last year, club members created a release pen for the Weinberg Nature Center in Scarsdale.
“I think it’s important to help animals that can’t survive on their own,” said eighth-grader Gaby Meda, a member of the club. “Many times, they’re overlooked or mistreated.”
Club advisor Regina Simoes is also a wildlife rehabilitator in New Rochelle licensed by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, a role that keeps her busy as a beaver. She rehabilitates dozens of squirrels each year that are left orphaned or stranded, often when trees are cut down. She has been using the new pen for a crucial transition phase in their re-introduction to natural settings.
“The pen will be used every spring, summer, and fall for many years to come, helping to release rehabilitated wildlife back into the wild,” Simoes said. She hopes the club members will obtain their licenses to join her in protecting the creatures.
The students are learning the importance of squirrels, bees and other creatures, and how their lives are interconnected with humans.
“They really help us in many different ways,” said eighth-grader Carlos Perez.
“I just like the feeling that I did something good – that I saved animals’ lives, and that I can save a lot more,” said eighth-grader Melanie Moncada.
Cindy Polera, the Scarsdale village naturalist and environmental educator of the Weinberg Nature Center, is impressed with the students’ dedication.
“They’re a great group,” she said. “They’re curious, they ask a lot of questions and they’re focused. They’re wonderful kids.”