On Friday, March 23, a male mute Swan residing in Oakland Lake in Bayside was rescued by two representatives of Volunteers for Wildlife Inc, a Wildlife Hospital, and Education Center, operating out of Locust Valley, Long Island. Shortly after 5 pm, neighborhood residents noticed that the swan had a piece of a rusty and twisted wire hanger wrapped around his neck. Within an hour of receiving a call and email regarding the swan’s predicament, Wildlife Center Supervisor Alicia Grubessi and long-standing volunteer Alice Hackett arrived with a net and other rescue tools.

With the help of five bird-loving Bayside locals, Alicia and Alice found and captured the swan by trapping the animal in the net, wrapping him in a blanket to avoid panic, carefully removing the wire, and then releasing the swan, unharmed, back into the lake where he swam happily back to his mate.

History of Volunteers for Wildlife

Such an efficient rescue was all in a day’s work for Volunteers for Wildlife, Inc., a non-profit organization that was founded in 1982 as a Wildlife Rehabilitation Hospital and Education Center. The mission of the organization, which presently operates out of Bailey Arboretum, is to rescue and rehabilitate animals. They also educate the public about co-existing with wildlife and their habitats through numerous education programs.

Running entirely on donations, Volunteers for Wildlife admits more than 2,000 animals every year. From the injured to the orphaned, from those who are returned to the wild to those who are permanently injured and become ambassadors for their species, Volunteers for Wildlife provides professional care for those in need. The Center cares for a large variety of species including turtles, squirrels, opossums, songbirds, hawks, owls, and majestic Mute Swans.

All Volunteers for Wildlife Rehabilitators are licensed and trained to deal with wild, frightened, and potentially dangerous animals. The vast majority of injuries are caused by collisions with cars or windows, attacks by domestic animals, entanglements in fishing line, or human disturbances to nests and/or trees. While most animals can be nurtured back to health and released upon cure, there are a few permanently disabled residents who have taken sanctuary at Bailey Arboretum which is open to the public.

These disabled residents (some of which are not physically disabled but were raised illegally by the public and subsequently are unable to survive in the wild) include owls, squirrels, ducks, opossums, snakes, turtles, falcons, crows, and hawks. These animals also serve as “ambassadors” for their species and travel to community centers, libraries, and schools as part of the education programs.

Interview with Supervisor Alicia Grubessi

Recently, Wildlife Center Supervisor Alicia Grubessi (who holds a degree in Biology and has worked at the organization since 2013) discussed the organization and its mission via an exclusive interview.

Meagan Meehan (MM): How did you initially get interested in animal rescue and how did you find out about Volunteers for Wildlife?

Alicia Grubessi (AG): I discovered Volunteers for Wildlife when looking for opportunities to work with wild animals. I had previously volunteered at the Wildlife Conservation Society’s Wildlife Health Center at the Bronx Zoo and was fascinated by wildlife medicine and daily care for such a wide variety of species.

MM: What were the training and licensing process like?

AG: In New York State, wildlife rehabilitators must pass a written exam and interview. Training is completed working under the guidance and supervision of licensed rehabilitators that either work out of their homes or at a facility like Volunteers for Wildlife’s Center.

MM: How many Volunteers do you currently have working for you and how much of a range do they cover?

AG: We have about sixty active volunteers that help in all aspects of wildlife rehabilitation and education. Volunteers rescue and transport animals, provide daily care to animals, assist rehabilitators with medical treatments, and assist in presenting educational programs to public groups.

MM: Are you currently looking for additional volunteers and, if so, what kind of training, licensing, and other aspects of the job must they be willing to consider?

AG: We are always looking for additional volunteers to join our team. Volunteers must be willing to work hard, commit to a weekly shift, and have a strong passion for wildlife and the environment. We provide on-site training for volunteer positions.

MM: You rescue over 2,000 animals a year! Are all the ones who cannot be released kept in your Wildlife Center?

AG: No, unfortunately, many patients come to us with very severe injuries that would cause permanent pain and suffering if the animals were kept in captivity. Volunteers for Wildlife is licensed to keep thirty permanently disabled animals that cannot survive in the wild. These animals are ambassadors for their species as part of our Education Programs.

MM: How did Volunteers for Wildlife secure space at Bailey and what do you most enjoy about the location?

AG: Volunteers for Wildlife moved to Bailey Arboretum in 2011. Bailey Arboretum is a County Park that is free and open to the public daily.

Our central location in Locust Valley allows us to serve a large community including Queens, Nassau, and western Suffolk Counties.

MM: You also have some incredible education programs! Can you tell us a bit about them and what age ranges you offer class/speeches to?

AG: Our Education Programs offer an exciting and interactive way for children and adults of all ages to learn about wildlife, the various habitats needed for it to thrive, and how to help with local and more far-reaching conservation efforts. We offer about fifteen programs including “Radical Reptiles,” “Web of Life,” and “Owl Prowl,” all of which can be tailored towards any audience.

MM: What do you wish more people would do to help lessen conflict between humans and wildlife on Long Island?

AG: Increased human development and habitat loss forces wildlife to live in very close proximity to people. Maintaining natural spaces in backyards such as abundant trees, native flowers and plants, and untouched areas of brush provides wildlife with natural food and shelter and helps to reduce human-wildlife conflict.

MM: Volunteers for Wildlife runs on donations...so how can people send money to support you?

AG: Donations can be made online, in person, or through the mail. In addition to monetary donations, Volunteers for Wildlife provides on our website a list of frequently used and much-needed supplies, so please visit our website for more details.

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For more information, please visit their official website by googling “Volunteers for Wildlife.”

The address for Bailey Arboretum is:

194 Bayville Road Locust Valley, NY 11560

Their Wildlife Hotline is 1-516-674-0982