By Sydney Amodio


At the Carolina Wildlife Center, volunteers and trained staff members alike work from 7 am until midnight caring for nearly 500 animals at a time. Songbirds, owls, squirrels, snakes, turtles and possums are just a handful of the animals the organization treats.

The Center, a 501c3 nonprofit organization in Columbia, is dedicated to the rehabilitation of injured and orphaned animals across the state. Animals are transported to the center from the Columbia area, Charlotte, Greenville and Charleston. The goal is always to release the animals back into the wild.

The center was founded in 1989 by five Columbia residents. During their first year, volunteers worked in a garage and received less than 100 animals. That number has increased every year since the center’s opening, and now over 20 years later the center has treated more than 55,000 animals. This past year more than 3,700 animals were admitted. Working at the center are volunteers and trained staff members including Executive Director, Jay Coles, and Director of Rehabilitation, Julie McKenzie. They have seen an increased need for rehabilitation with growing development.

The center’s baby possums are tube-fed by animal caretakers.

The center’s baby possums are tube-fed by animal caretakers.

“Every time we knock down 10 acres of trees we destroy the habitat of thousands of animals,” Jay Coles said. “When we build a highway, a strip center, a housing development, every time we do that we destroy a habitat and force those animals to interact with us.”

Recently, the center rescued animals from a homicide crime scene in Chesterfield County, where the victim was running an illegal animal trade business. Eighty percent of the animals in the home were found dead from neglect or starvation. The center took in 10 Eastern Box turtles, a Diamond Back Terrain, an Alligator Snapping Turtle and 10 Spotted Turtles, which are a threatened species in SC.

There are many other turtles cared for at the center, including a Snapping Turtle that was stabbed in the head with a screwdriver. Because of the injury, the turtle lost the use of its front legs and has been gradually gaining that back for over a year. The turtle enclosures are labelled with the address indicating where the turtles came from, to ensure that once healed they will return to their migration pattern.

The center receives more than 200 species each year, but the largest group of animals in their care are the songbirds. Animal caretakers feed orphaned baby birds every 20 minutes from sunrise to sunset just as the mother bird would do. Birds have strong instincts, so raising them simply requires providing a safe space for them to grow and interact with other animals. Once the birds can feed themselves and fledge they are put in the aviaries until they can survive on their own.

There are two seasons a year when the center receives possums and squirrels. The possum is the only marsupial in North America, therefore the babies are normally tube-fed in the mother’s pouch. Animal caretakers at the center do their best to mimic this by tube-feeding the baby possums themselves.

The center is always in need of helping hands. Volunteers must be 18 years or older and can become involved in the center’s fundraising, educational initiatives, recycling program, wildlife transportation and wildlife care. The center is also in great need of supplies and financial donations to accomplish their mission.

Carolina Wildlife Center is dedicated to the preservation of wildlife through education. Their educators are invited to schools and organizations through their Wild Wonders Outreach Programs, which always include a live encounter with their non-releasable wildlife. Camp WILD Things provides a chance for children to learn about and interact with wildlife. The center offers animal rescue advice and informs the public of the importance of animals in our environment.

“Wildlife manages the environment around us,” Coles said. “They eat the things we don’t want around. The mice, the rats that carry diseases, the ticks. That’s what they prey on. The non-venomous snakes eat the venomous snakes. They are there keeping that balance in play, if we keep disturbing that balance then it will get out of control at some point and we’ll end up with problems that we’ll have to deal with that were simply being taken care of for us. There’s a constant process of nature renewing itself. We are not as good at that as they are.”

For more information, visit the center’s website at

Featured Photo: Executive Director, Jay Coles, with Gizmo the possum. Gizmo is one of the center’s 18 educational animals.