Wildlife sanctuary comes back from difficult year

ONSLOW COUNTY, N.C. (WITN) – Snorts and squawks were the sounds that marked a new beginning for the Possumwood Acres Wildlife Sanctuary in Onslow County as they officially reopened their gates on Sunday.

“We’re trying to let people who love animals have a place to express that love and be able to do things for them,” said sanctuary director Toni O’Neil. “Or just be able to support them financially knowing that there’s a place that’s going to continue to be here forever.”

The sanctuary faced many challenges in the past year, including damage from a hurricane and losing fundraising and volunteer opportunities due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Newly renovated, O’Neil said they have the opportunity to teach the community about wildlife in North Carolina while also caring for those injured and in need of rehabilitation.

“We get a lot of babies and that people think they can raise themselves or birds of prey,” said volunteer Andrew Baughman. “They think they can keep his pets, but unfortunately, that isn’t best for the animal. They need care to be able to be released back into the wild.”

Care that Baughman is well-versed in, such as with possums.

“You can’t really release a possum with over half of its tail missing,” said Baughman. “They don’t use it to hang like you see in the movies. They do use it for balance and collecting nesting materials.”

Several of the sanctuary’s tenants are educational ambassadors, including a rabbit named Lorette, who is used to educate the public about the dangers of bunny breeding.

“People do breed a lot of rabbits and a lot of domestic animals in general. Domestic rabbits aren’t able to survive in the wild,” said Baughman. “They’re meant to be pets. The big thing with our education ambassadors is to help educate the public on my North Carolina’s wild life is so important to help conserve.”

At 16-years-old, Baughman takes on the educational responsibility fearlessly.

“Getting to know your affecting nature in such a positive way, combating the negative effects of people, getting to release them back into the wild— it’s very fulfilling. If the animals were not here we wouldn’t be here, so it’s pretty important to me to be able to do that as well,” he said.

The fall fundraiser is the sanctuary’s largest source of community income. More than $4,500 of prizes were raffled off to generate funds for continued improvements for the animals.

Guided tours are available daily at the sanctuary located at 119 Doe Dr. Hubert, NC 28539. More information on how to visit or support Possumwood Acres can be found here.

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