All human beings are part of the natural world, and when we fail to respect any part of nature, whether tree, flower or animal, we fail to respect profound and intimate aspects of ourselves. Humans enjoy a deep, natural connection to the animal world, and we can recognize and learn from it. Some animals display great kindness, some are powerful protectors, some have great courage, and some are expert adaptors as seasons, or entire environments, shift and change. When an animal is threatened or becomes extinct, all of us lose not only beauty, but part of our relationship to the planet.
The Wildlife Freedom Foundation (WFF) is a non-profit 501(c)(3) entity created to help protect and conserve wildlife and animals in need in New York City, with a focus on Roosevelt Island. WFF has absorbed the activities of Island Cats into one broader organization. Our mission is to restore the health of injured or sick animals; control and reduce the population of stray cats and dogs through spaying, neutering, and adoption; advocate to prevent and end all forms of cruelty toward animals; engage in public education to enhance compassion for animals; and establish the importance of conserving wild animal populations in urban areas. We are beginning an educational partnership with PS/IS 217 this spring, spearheaded by the school community service committee. The project will be curriculum-based and take place during school hours.
Due to extreme urban development, much of humanity now lives miles away from the wild, and has lost the extraordinary experience of attempting to look at the world through an animal’s eyes. As residents of this special Island, we still have a chance. Island birds, for instance, are amazing! There are approximately 470 species of wild birds in New York City, and most of them inhabit or visit Roosevelt Island, including black-crowned night herons, great egrets, red headed woodpeckers, blue jays, mallard ducks, Canada geese, mute swans, Northern cardinals, red-tailed hawks, and many others. Harder to spot, but definitely present, are the great horned owls and Peregrine falcons. In mid-March, the arrival of the “Eastern Phoebe” tells us that spring migration has begun.
There are also fascinating mammals in our community, some highly visible, some not. One high-profile resident is the Eastern gray squirrel. These members of the rodent family can be very sociable and engaging as they mooch for food or dig to store nuts. They monitor and relocate their food throughout the seasons, and their sharp sense of smell enables them to find their store of nuts or seeds no matter where they have buried it. They are also fierce survivors. The maternal instinct of the female squirrel is so strong that she will chew through metal or even fight off a dog to protect her young.
We are lucky to have among us the quiet, shy, and very clean Virginia opossum. Now the only marsupials in North America, opossums were present on the planet when dinosaurs roamed. They are non-aggressive animals and will not harm people or pets. They should be welcome in everyone’s garden, as they consume snails, slugs, and beetles and keep rats and cockroaches at bay by competing with them for food and killing them if they come too close. When threatened, opossums will run, growl, urinate and defecate. And if all of that fails, they roll over, stiffen, close their eyes and bare their teeth as saliva foams on their mouths and glands excrete a foul-smelling fluid. This can last for more than three hours and effectively deters predators looking for a meal.
Little brown bats are winged mammals that can be seen at dawn or dusk among trees or near and above water. They are the most common bats in the New York City area, and have a bad reputation they really don’t deserve. In fact, they can eat up to 800 mosquitoes per hour. They use echolocation (rapid pulses of sounds that bounce off objects) to catch insects. Imagine how greatly they decrease incidents of insect bites, not to mention West Nile virus. Roosevelt Island is also home to the Eastern cottontail rabbit, raccoons, and other wildlife. You should never attempt to touch a wild animal (unless it is an emergency situation) or disturb a wildlife creature’s nest or habitat.
Of course, our biggest population of concern on Roosevelt Island is cats. We have approximately 50 abandoned domestic cats and 25 feral cats on the Island. We operate four shelters that house about 50 cats, and we work to get these cats adopted by loving families. For cats that cannot be adopted, we provide shelter, food, love and veterinary care. We also practice the “Trap-Neuter-Release” method to help control feral populations. WFF implores cat owners to never abandon a cat outdoors, thinking it will survive. Not only is this cruel, it is illegal! Should you be unable to care for your pet, call your local “No Kill” animal shelter, where the pet will have a chance at adoption, love, and a long life. Cat owners, keep your cat indoors, and encourage cat-owning neighbors with yards or patios to do the same. You show your love by keeping your cats where they are safe and secure. You should also spay/neuter your cat. 35,000 kittens are born each day in the United States alone, and one female and her kittens can produce more than 400,000 cats in seven years!