Wildlife rescues just got easier on Marco Island

March 16, 2023

Please always call 239.262.2273 for wildlife assistance. The von Arx Wildlife Hospital is open 365 days a year from 8am to 8pm. We are located at 1495 Smith Preserve Way in Naples, FL.

At the von Arx Wildlife Hospital, located at and part of the Conservancy of Southwest Florida, we focus on rescue, rehab and release. On average, we admit and take care of about 4,300 injured native animals each year. We depend on our volunteers and local citizens to help us with rescues. One person in particular has made our mission a bit easier, especially on Marco Island and Isles of Capri.

We asked Audubon Western Everglades field biologist, Brittany Piersma, a few questions about the work she has been doing for the native wildlife in Southwest Florida and her tremendous help regarding the wildlife hospital and how placing transport carriers throughout the island has made an impact.

How long have you been supporting the Conservancy?

I have taken animals to the Conservancy since I moved here in 2016, but my relationship with the staff grew when I started working directly in the field for both Florida Fish and Wildlife and Audubon Western Everglades. I work in Collier County, with most of my time spent on Marco Island. I constantly come across sick, injured, and deceased wildlife. I greatly appreciate the teamwork with my volunteers and the Conservancy staff and volunteers for all wildlife rescues.

What do your volunteer duties look like on an average day?

I manage three conservation programs: Burrowing Owls, Gopher Tortoises, and Shorebirds. Almost every day I do multiple surveys of different species and critical habitat.  On a good day, without seasonal traffic and accidents, transporting animals to the Conservancy can easily take 30-45 minutes from Marco Island. Some days I would be making this trip multiple times a day while still trying to get fieldwork done.  While doing presentations on the island, I started gathering contacts of other citizens willing to help transport to add to the list the Conservancy has already established. I have a mass text list of 30 people on Marco that have been extremely helpful.

Brittany P. with a gopher tortoise

What sparked the idea of placing wildlife rescue carriers around Marco Island and Isles of Capri?

A lot of the work I do involves responding to rescues because people do not have the tools or feel comfortable capturing an animal. If they capture an animal, they are not sure where to put it or how to handle it. When people spot an animal in need, it can become a wild goose chase if no one is able to stay with it. Additionally, I have a great relationship with many boat tour guides that do not always have time to stop their work to transport. I decided that I could help wildlife by stationing crates, towels, and nets at several locations. Each crate has my contact on it so I can assist with the rescue over the phone, come if needed, and help with ensuring the animal is transported to the Conservancy. Most of the materials were donated to us by volunteers and citizens. 

Wildlife rescue carrier at Isles of Capri – Capri Fish House

Where are the locations?

The crates/rescue supplies are located at Tigertail Beach, Resident’s Beach, Caxambas Marina (temporarily closed), Goodland Marina, Rose Marina, Mackle Park, and Isles of Capri-Capri Fish House.  We have also given supplies to Marco PD CSO Officers, JW Marriott staff, and staff at Pelican Bay in Naples.

Red pins show where you can find rescue carriers

If someone finds an injured animal and brings to the location, what do they do next?

If someone finds an injured animal, they can use the net and towels to rescue it and contain it in the crate provided.  Then they need to call the number on the crate if they cannot transport it to the Conservancy.  It is important to return the supplies as soon as possible for future rescues.  

Are you hoping for more locations and if so, would it be helpful for critter couriers?

It would be great to have this setup at other locations in Collier County with potentially other coordinators nearby. During times of nesting and red tide, we have a massive increase of rescues. 

What else should people know about this option?

I always tell the public to never be afraid to ask for help! Whether it be supplies like towels or using multiple bodies to get an animal to a safe location, there may be someone nearby that can make a huge difference in the rescue. Feel free to call me any time for advice. Animals in the fight or flight mode sometimes need to be caught on the first try which involves analyzing the situation and making the best judgment on how to react and obtain it.

How You Can Help with Transporting Injured Animals

At the Conservancy, we depend on our volunteers. One way you can become involved in this is by signing up to be a Critter Courier. Critter Couriers transport injured animals to the hospital – we can never have too many of those! Critter Courier is the best fit for those that are unable to commit to a scheduled weekly shift. Sign up here.

Another way is making sure you are always rescue ready. Be prepared for any rescue that may come your way whether at work, in your car, or at home and have gear ready to go – towels, nets, carriers, safety glasses. Busy season is here and we need to take care of the local wildlife as best as we can.