Set back from the road away from neighbors and passers-by is an 11-acre wildlife refuge. On a recent morning, several raccoons playfully jumped over one another in a cage next to opossums. In a room next door, a black bear cub recovering from surgery sat in a cage to herself. She rattled the bars, growling, as the executive director tried to open the door to the cage.
Tracy Leaver, along with two staffers and an army of more than 40 volunteers, operates the Woodlands Wildlife Refuge, a nonprofit animal rehabilitation center that is dedicated to the care and release of orphaned and injured wildlife.
The refuge takes in about 800 animals each year and has as many as 120 in its care at one time, providing a temporary home to bears, squirrels, foxes, raccoons, opossums, otters, woodchucks, minks, turtles, porcupines, bats, coyotes, rabbits and bobcats until they grow up or return to full health.
“Our job here is to simply give the animals a second chance,” Leaver said.
Woodlands Wildlife Refuge, which receives no state or federal funding, relies on donations to operate. It started 26 years ago when Leaver found two orphaned raccoons, and it grew from there.
The refuge, which works closely with the state Division of Fish and Wildlife’s black bear project team, is the only one in the state that is permitted to take in bears, in part because the demand is low.
Over the years, the refuge has cared for 72 bears, mostly abandoned or injured cubs.
Photo courtesy of Cristina Rojas/Hunterdon County Democrat