It is entirely possible that we’re just suckers for clever branding. After all, we can’t say for certain whether there’s any real difference between the places we visit that bill themselves as “animal hospitals” or “rescue centers” and ordinary zoos. But that difference in stated mission – for rescuing animals on the one hand, and mostly just displaying them on the other – has come to matter to us.
I think it’s all the time we’ve spent out in the wild these past four years. We’ve come to so appreciate spying animals in their natural habitats that seeing them in cages now just makes us sad. And because we typically try to avoid being sad, we rarely visit zoos or aquariums any more.
Places like the Alaska Raptor Center in Sitka, however, give off a completely different vibe: one of hope.
Each year Alaska’s foremost bald eagle hospital provides medical treatment to upwards of 200 birds. Their goal is to rehabilitate and release each of these patients back into the wild.
Toward that end they make every effort to minimize the interaction between the birds slated for release and humans, including shielding them from visitors.
Unfortunately, not all injured animals fully recover. Tootsie, the Northern Shaw-wet Owl who greeted us at reception, for example, came to the Raptor Center with a broken humerus. The Center pinned Tootsie’s wing, but it never healed well enough for her to survive in the wild.
With no place else to go, Tootsie will stay at the Center as a Raptor in Residency; luring visitors and donations that not only help pay for her room and board, but also for the medical treatment of hundreds of other injured birds.
And we have to admit that seeing her at work, along with a dozen or so other rescued raptors, made us the very opposite of sad.