Road Trippin' : Wildlife Worries
MERLIN, Ore. —
A lot of work happening on the Wildlife Images campus, as the rehabilitation center makes some serious changes. Many were forced upon the Merlin center, after this summer’s smoke kept tourists away.
“We'd get a smoky day and then it would be clear and beautiful but people still stayed away, they heard the smoke was out here and we were so close to the fires, so it was pretty hard on us,” Executive Director Dave Siddon says.
Siddon says unfortunately, it’s a trend he’s seen the last few years.
“We got hit with a perfect storm. We had another year of severe smoke and fires all around us and that drives tourism away. Our attendance was drastically down and that's four summers I think in a row our attendance has been abysmal because of the smoke and then of course, we had a couple of winters preceding that where we had winter storm damage as well, knocked down a bunch of trees. We were closed for three months during one of the winters because of all the damage we sustained here,” Siddon says.
On top of that, intakes at the facility are up. So far this year, Wildlife Images has taken in close to 950 animals. This time last year, that number was 800.
“We've used up a lot of our reserves trying to keep the place afloat. We're hoping to turn this trend around by having an open campus and by some of the events we're going to be having coming up,” Siddon says.
Siddon says their business model had to change and that includes creating an open campus. Now visitors can wander in and look around without relying on a tour. A lot of work is going on to make that happen, including creating safety barriers and specific signage for the animals.
“That's what makes us different from a zoo. When people walk through Wildlife Images, each of these animals has a unique story about how it came out of the wild into captivity, why we have it and what its future is. Our signs have to be more adaptable and up to date than a zoo,” Siddon says.
There’s also a membership drive to get more people committed to the mission at Wildlife Images, which is rehabilitating wild animals, only to get them back to their natural habitats.
“We have a lot of member only events, including releases and those are a lot more in depth than our public releases that we do. You could say we reserve some of the most special animals that are being released from our rehabilitation clinic for the member only events,” Erin Maxson says.
Siddon knows there are still more challenges ahead, but he’s hoping, by just visiting Wildlife Images, others will understand its need to stay open.
“Making a connection to wildlife, and appreciating the wilds around them. That's one of the things that makes Oregon so special is we do have wildlife still intact. We do have wild animals out here so what better way to experience them than eyeball to eyeball,” Siddon says.