FWC investigates wildlife rehabilitation expert
Published: Friday, October 5, 2012 at 1:23 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, October 5, 2012 at 1:23 p.m.
A prominent Gainesville wildlife rehabilitation expert is under state investigation after photos and videos surfaced purporting to show poor treatment of animals now being kept at her home.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission already has issued a citation to Leslie Straub of Florida Wildlife Care for unsanitary conditions while a broader investigation continues, commission district spokeswoman Karen Parker said.
“There was a barred owl in a bathroom, and there were some unsanitary conditions — feces,” Parker said. “The investigation is still going on. I don’t know what they are going to come up with. It was prompted by the complaints we have received.”
Parker added the investigation should be wrapped up soon.
Straub said the owl had been in an outside enclosure but had just been brought inside for treatment before she had time to clean.
Straub added that she does not believe the investigation will result in discipline.
“We’ve been doing this for 20 years and doing it well,” Straub said. “When our investigator comes, he asks questions. If there are things going on, he tells us right off the bat. If there is an obvious problem, he tells us right then and there, ‘you have to fix this.’ ”
Florida Wildlife Care has a center on Southeast 15th Street. Straub has had wildlife rehabilitator permits from FWC since 1995.
Former volunteer Dawn Fox said Straub had been keeping animals at her Gainesville home in conditions that are crowded and inhumane.
“She has a lot of animals that are left to die. She doesn’t feed them or give them fresh water,” Fox said. “I had taken her animals in the past and could see she was overwhelmed. She won’t let anything go.”
Straub is a co-founder and director of Florida Wildlife Care, which takes in injured birds, deer and small mammals such as raccoons and opossums, as well as reptiles, including tortoises and non-venomous snakes.
Also, Straub gives educational programs with wildlife to teach people about the animals and what to do if they come upon an injured animal.
FWC is the regulatory agency for wildlife rehabilitators, and it requires them to get licenses. The licenses require proof of proficiency at rehabbing animals, such as courses that were taken, said FWC investigator Steve Farmer. The state also has requirements on cage or enclosure sizes, acreage and general care of animals that must be met by people who keep captive wildlife.
Farmer said most violations by rehabilitators involve housing and overall care of animals.
“It usually, with captive wildlife, is going to be something like caging or the care of the animals, like neglect,” Farmer said. “We have hundreds of people in this region that have captive wildlife — there’s probably over 100 in Alachua County alone. They have to meet the minimum for caging, but most of them exceed it.”
Fox said she provided FWC with pictures and videos she took while volunteering at Straub’s house for several months during the summer.
The videos and photos, which were provided to The Sun by Fox, show animals that Fox described as dead and dying in boxes and plastic containers. Among the photos is one of an owl in a tub that resulted in the citation. Some tortoises also were photographed.
Also shown are cluttered and unclean conditions throughout the house, including the kitchen. A dead animal is shown in the refrigerator.
Most of the animals were squirrels that had been brought to Straub by people who found them. Several birds and tortoises were also seen.
“It is very sad,” Fox said. “I feel bad for her, but I just don’t want any more animals to go to her.”
Straub said she and her volunteers got slammed with a large number of animals after tropical storms Isaac and Debby blew through the area, adding that those may have been the animals photographed by Fox.
A network of volunteers take animals from Straub for care in their own homes, Straub said, adding that she does not keep every animal she receives.
“This has been our busiest season in a long time. We are in the middle of doing renovations at the center, so we had a lot happening,” Straub said, adding she hasn’t seen Fox’s photos and videos. “Pictures are just a snapshot in time. If they were from after the storm, we were flooded with animals.”