“Hi, little babies!” says Hilary Taylor, a wildlife rehabilitator and educator, as she leans over a plastic bin lined with straw and soft, fuzzy fabric. She lifts a corner of the blanket inside and reveals a tiny creature with a white face, a pointed nose and perfectly round ears. “We’ve got a whole bunch of baby opossums in there, oh, yes!” she exclaims.
Taylor gently lifts one of the opossums, watching as it curls its minuscule pink hands over her finger. It looks up at her with black eyes that resemble watermelon seeds, opens its mouth and makes a gentle noise that sounds like a sneeze. The baby is simply asking for food, Taylor explains.
“When they’re born, you can put four or five on a teaspoon,” she notes. “They look poky, but they’re soft as silk. And they eat ticks. …That’s why you want possums. They are to the earth what crabs are to the ocean. They eat anything—dead, alive—they’re cleaners.” She places the critter back in the blanket and covers it tenderly.
Taylor runs the Delaware Wildlife Rehabilitators Association — Bear Station out of her home on Red Lion Road, where she has been rehabilitating wildlife since 1969, when she came to Delaware from her native England to train ponies. She gets help from a number of local veterinarians. “We only have half an acre, and I average about 1,000 animals a year,” she says.
Diagnoses of diabetes and breast cancer in February 2020 forced Taylor to slow down a bit, but with summer camp kids visiting and hundreds of animals seeking refuge on her property, she’s still diligent about her work.
She cares for foxes, box turtles, tortoises, bats, skunks, bunnies and more. “I just released a beaver,” Taylor notes, also pointing to a picture of a 4-foot alligator she once had. “I have permits for exotics, too.” But her favorites are baby beavers, she admits. “They have so much personality. They hug you, they grab you around your legs. It’s amazing.”
Taylor’s goal is always to release animals back into the wild, something that’s become increasingly difficult due to habitat destruction. “Everybody wants to build, build, build. It gets harder and harder to find someplace to release them,” she says.
But there is plenty people can do to help their local wildlife, Taylor says. “[Planting natives] is really important, things like oak and beech trees that are food for the animals. And people can always take a corner of their yard and set up a vernal pool for frogs and turtles and things, and set up bird feeders.”
She also wants to help people know what to do if they find an injured or sick animal. “If it’s a baby, you can pick it up with gloves and a hand towel and place it in a box, then call your local wildlife rehabilitator before feeding it anything.” Don’t touch an adult animal without being instructed to do so, especially raccoons or foxes. Taylor emphasizes that children should never be allowed to touch an animal.
For help in New Castle County, call Taylor at 834-4604. (It’s a landline; she doesn’t text.) Those south of NCC can call the Delaware Council of Wildlife Rehabilitators and Educators at 270-9256 (Kent County) or 228-1063 (Sussex County).