ISLAND PEOPLE: Featuring wildlife rehabilitator Lou Browning
By Joy Crist
weeks ago Lou Browning, a longtime resident of Hatteras Island and a
co-owner of Browning Studios, received a call that a bird had been
accidentally hooked on the beach near Cape Point.
The fishermen had meant well and tried their best to untangle and free
the panicked animal, but in the process, the bird suffered multiple
broken bones and deep cuts throughout its body and neck. As a result,
the bird had to be put down.
As Hatteras Island’s resident wildlife rehabilitator, Browning
encountered a sad and grotesque scene that day, and it probably
won’t be his last. But those experiences are tempered by his
Many people remember Elizabeth Hanrahan, the former Ocracoke resident
who logged countless hours serving as the local wildlife rehabilitator.
Her duties were to help injured wild animals to the point that they
could be released back into the wild.
Hanrahan moved from Ocracoke to Edenton several years ago, and now Lou
Browning is picking up where she left off. “It’s a labor of
love,” he explains. “With the cost and the time involved,
it has to be a labor of love.”
The task of the rehabilitator is to find a tricky balance between
caring for the animal and medically treating it -- without it being
threatened or terrified to death -- and still maintaining its wild
nature so it will not become accustomed to humans and can be safely
released into the wild.
Indeed, the “position” of a wildlife rehabilitator is not
an easy one. It is strictly volunteer work and requires countless hours
of dedication and money to feed and care for the variety of injured
animals that need help, sometimes for months at a time. There are
smaller birds that need to be fed every 15 minutes, and there are
migratory birds that spend their entire life flying across continents
without touching the ground, even sleeping while in mid-air. These
animals’ schedules and environments have to be mimicked as
accurately as possible to help them make the transition from the
rehabilitation back to the wild as smoothly as possible.
Browning typically gets a 50-50 mix of animals that have had a bad
string of luck and are consequently starving, but can be fattened up
and released within days, and seriously injured animals that are in
need of long-term care.
In Browning’s expansive wooded yard in Frisco, he has several
outbuildings and cages to care for the injured animals that show up at
his door. Currently, his boarders include a small land turtle that was
run over by a car and has been with him for months and a crow that was
found in Hatteras emaciated, injured, and covered with thousands of
Both of the animals are doing well, though it will be a while before
either of them will be ready to re-enter the wild. In the crow’s
case, it has to molt and learn how to “talk crow” in order
to communicate with other crows and join a flock. To give him a hand,
Browning has installed a bird feeder outside the crow’s enclosed
sunroom so other crows will visit and chirp away.
If this sounds remotely tedious or time consuming, it’s nothing
compared to what Browning has had to do to allow him to take care of
these animals to begin with.
“I took a basic course that prepared me for a state license,
which lets you take care of mammals and reptiles, but not birds which
are considered migratory,” says Browning.
Browning also has begun his tutelage, working with Hanrahan, president
of the state rehabilitation organization and leader in numerous
seminars and conferences. “She’s a very experienced, very
brilliant rehabilitator,” says Browning.
Browning started out taking care of turtles and snakes, since he always
enjoyed working with these animals, and the state license, though
somewhat time consuming, was relatively simple to get. He was also able
to work with certain mammals, but because of the restrictions on the
state license, he was unable to work with the majority of mammals on
Hatteras Island, such as foxes and deer, and was permitted to work only
with a select few of the native critters, specifically opossums.
“You don’t really appreciate opossums until you’re
with them up close and actually get to see how they behave,” he
He also assisted with the transportation of animals, a significant need
since Hanrahan’s departure, and he brought injured birds and
other mammals he could not work with to her so she could perform the
necessary rehabilitation procedures.
But the regular three-hour hour trips to Edenton started to wear on
Browning, and he realized he had to apply for the federal permit so he
would be able to help the native animals, instead of simply
transporting them off the island.
“I realized with the time I was putting into this, I would be better off getting a federal license,” says Browning.
This is no easy task.
A great deal of money is needed, as well as time, to obtain a federal
rehabilitation permit. There are application fees, an apprenticeship
before a license can be considered, necessary education course hours,
and all the facilities and equipment for the wild animals must be up to
federal regulations before the permit is even granted.
has already spent more than $3,000 out of his pocket on materials
alone for a federally approved enclosure. And it’s not a
guarantee that he will even receive a federal license.
“I think it will work out okay. I think the need is here, and
I’m going through the right steps, and working with Hanrahan whom
I consider to be one of the best. So hopefully everything will come out
fine,” says Browning.
While in the process of obtaining this license, he is working as a
sub-practitioner under Hanrahan. This allows him to work with most
patients come primarily from word of mouth, including the National Park
Service, which receives countless calls on injured animals spotted on
the islands, realty companies, and locals who know his business.
you start doing this, the word kind of gets around. Someone will find
an injured turtle along the road and will call the Park Service or ask
at the local tackle shop, and they’ll refer them to me,” he
He has also started a Web site to get a little more attention to his
services and, hopefully, generate more donations to assist with the
staggering costs for the care for these animals, all paid for by Lou
But, for Browning, the role of being the island’s wildlife
rehabilitator and the success stories he has enjoyed are well worth the
time and money.
“It is something people do because they care,” he
says. “The whole idea behind rehabilitation is to save injured
wildlife, and when I’m successful, it’s worth all the
What you can do:
• Drive carefully. Many of the animals that find
their way to Lou Browning, specifically turtles, have been injured by
• Do not automatically assume that a baby animal
spotted by itself has been abandoned. Many mother birds and deer will
be close to a seemingly abandoned baby bird or fawn, even if they are
not visible. Use your judgment and call if you encounter a baby animal
on its own.
• When you’re fishing, watch your bait and
hooks. If you snare a bird with a hook, don’t catch and release
the animal. The hook will always be there, as well as the injury. Call
Lou Browning, or if you are experienced dealing with injured animals,
put the animal in an empty breathable cooler or a cardboard box. Keep
the animal in a dark, cool, quiet place until you can reach help.
Animals can literally be scared to death by too much activity and human
• Donations are needed and appreciated. Visit www.hiwr.us for more details and contact information.