Penny the porcupine will soon have a new home, one more than 2,800 miles from where it was found as a baby and raised at Summit Wildlife Rehabilitation in Ogdensburg.
On April 27, Penny is driven by Shannon M. Demers and her wife Katie Maloney, operators of Summit Wildlife Rehabilitation, 5852 State Highway 37, Ogdensburg, to the Rosamund Gifford Zoo, Syracuse, for the long journey across the country on Am next day he flies there, where he will spend the rest of his life at the San Diego Zoo.
Penny’s trip was supposed to have taken place last week, but problems with a Delta Airlines flight from Greater Rochester International Airport fell through, and then Syracuse Zoo stepped in to make the trip to San Diego possible.
At the San Diego Zoo, Penny will be their new educational animal ambassador, according to Nicki Boyd, the zoo’s curator of applied behavior.
“Animal Ambassadors help us educate guests about wildlife and the importance of conservation by volunteering at on-site presentations, visiting schools, children’s hospitals and adult daycares,” Boyd said.
After Penny makes the trip, zoo staff will begin to develop a relationship with the animal, which could take time, according to Clint Lusardi, the zoo’s wildlife care manager.
“Penny will be joining the San Diego Zoo once he arrives and has completed his quarantine period. We will observe his behavior, establish a trusting relationship, and begin training with positive reinforcement. Guests will be able to see him in educational presentations when he’s ready, which may take some time,” Lusardi said.
His new home will be the zoo’s brand new Wildlife Explorers Basecamp, a sprawling, 8-acre setting that Boyd said just recently opened on March 11.
“We are very excited to welcome Penny to Wildlife Explorers Basecamp at the San Diego Zoo. This area is really poised to inspire the next generation of conservationists and we know Penny’s presence will help with that,” she said.
A little over a year ago, Penny was found in the mouth of a Yorkshire terrier, about the size of a baseball.
Penny, a baby porcupine, just two days old, had survived the inquisitive dog, its quills hardened just enough to protect and protect it while it sent the terrier to the vet, according to Demers, who is a State Department-approved wild animal -Rehabilitator is Environmental Protection (DEC).
The purpose of Summit Wildlife Rehabilitation is “Educate, Rehabilitate and Release.”
This little porcupine, who they originally thought was a female but is actually a male, was named Penny. The name remained independent of gender.
“Penny was brought to us in April last year, found in a dog’s mouth. When I got it, it was about the size of a baseball. So he was really tiny, he was just born. So I hand raised him and he bonded with me which we don’t want and he is an absolute sweetheart. If I let him go, he would approach someone, possibly hurt someone, or he would get hurt,” Demers said.
Penny behaves like a domesticated cat or dog. He likes having his tummy rubbed, and Demers would often pet Penny like a dog, unafraid of being pricked with goads. She even puts chunks of vegetables in her mouth and Penny would take it from her.
Demers would routinely pick up Penny and has taught the porcupine to give high-fives.
Demers said she never imagined that Penny would eventually make his home in San Diego or be named an animal education ambassador at his zoo. This came after Demers posted photos of Penny on a Facebook page for zoo keepers and she received over 20 requests from zoos across the country wanting to get Penny.
“We were completely overwhelmed, we really had no idea what to do,” said Demers, who chose the San Diego Zoo as Penny’s new home, “He’s a special guy.”
Lusardi said Penny was seen by one of their wildlife care specialists and they felt he would be a great addition to the zoo.
“The San Diego Zoo’s newest habitat, Wildlife Explorers Basecamp, already houses a North American porcupine, so we thought Penny would be a great fit,” he said. “We were drawn to Penny because we felt he could really benefit from a place like the San Diego Zoo with wildlife care specialists and veterinarians who can truly meet the needs of his species.”
Penny will also participate in a breeding program at the zoo, Boyd said.
“We plan to introduce Penny to our female North American porcupine in hopes of future breeding,” she said.
Next spring, Demers and Maloney will be taking a trip to the west coast to visit Penny.
SUMMIT WILDLIFE REHABILITATION
Demers started Summit Wildlife Rehabilitation after a car hit a snapping turtle in front of her home on State Highway 37 more than three years ago.
“I got into animal rehabilitation by accident. I had a call from a friend that a possum had been hit by a car and the babies were still alive on the sidewalk. When I got there they were over. On the same day, a snapping turtle was hit by a car in front of my house. This time I wanted to help. As soon as I started cleaning his wound, he immediately calmed down, like he knew I was helping him, and even gave me a smile,” said Demers, who works as a pharmacist at Kimro’s Medicine Place in Ogdensburg.
Since that day with the loss of the possum babies and the rehab of the snapping turtle almost three years ago, Demers began taking in injured or orphaned small animals and restoring them to health.
“Basically restoring animals to health to release them back into the wild,” Demers says, “we’ll take rabbits, squirrels, possums, mink or weasels, amphibians, snakes and turtles. I don’t take birds because most migratory birds are migratory and you need a special federal bird license.” Most of the animals they’ve ever cared for at one time are 19.
One of the more exotic animals they took care of was a flying squirrel.
She built a small building behind her garage to house the animals. Powered by solar panels, the structure is heated in winter and cooled with air conditioning in the summer months. Inside there are about 10 cages of different sizes to accommodate the different animals. How long they are there depends on each case.
“It depends on whether the animal has an injury and how severe it is. If it’s an orphan we keep it until it’s big enough to be on its own. Like rabbits, they can be released when they are very young, about the size of a human’s fist, but with squirrels and possums you have to wait until they get a little bigger,” Demers said.
Currently, Summit is taking care of a squirrel named Mister, who is the center’s educational animal ambassador. Mister has a dental condition that requires his front teeth to be trimmed every few weeks. Due to this condition and the squirrel getting too close to Demers, Mister is a non-releaseable animal and lives in the building, complete with an interior nest and tubes that allow him to migrate to an exterior-mounted cage.
They recently took in two baby squirrels, victims of the recent storm in the area, whose nest was blown out of a tree and destroyed. The squirrel siblings were named Lilo and Stitch.
It’s a working love for Demers and Maloney, who use their own money and donations from the public to keep the wildlife rehabilitation center running.
“We have many wonderful donors who support us. We have people making cash donations, several people donating food and supplies. We also have friends who do fundraisers for us, and we have several throughout the year,” Demers said.
For more information about Summit Wildlife Rehabilitation, visit their Facebook page.
If anyone comes across an injured animal or has found orphaned baby animals, they can contact Demers through Facebook on the rehabilitation center’s page, email her at [email protected], or contact her at (315) 323-1374.
Summit is currently taking care of a squirrel named Mister, who is the center’s educational animal ambassador. He eats a strawberry. Photo provided by Summit Wildlife Rehabilitation