By Cindy Atoji Keene
When the recent powerful nor’easter brought record snowfalls, Flavio Sutti, wildlife care manager at Mass Audubon, readied for the winter storm by shoveling pathways to the animal cages and checking on fresh water and food supplies. Sutti, 40, who is charged with overseeing the health and safety of Drumlin Farm’s wildlife collection – which includes owls, hawks, ducks, as well as various amphibians, reptiles, and mammals such as opossums, rabbits, and even a fisher¬– said that even though most to the animals are acclimated to the weather, he needs to always keep an eye on the conditions. “Being outside is also a nice component of my job; being in the same environment as the animals also allows me to observe them in their habitat,” said Sutti.
Q: How do you help animals cope with extreme temperatures, like the storm we recently had?
A: We’ll move some of them inside, like the Canada goose, mallard and two domestic Pekin ducks. Normally they spend the night in protected shelter but when it gets cold, they can start to have frost on their feathers. Providing the animals with regular feedings also allows them to produce more heat for energy, and we will use heat lamps for some of them. When it’s very hot, on the other hand, fishers or the foxes might get “mice-cicles,” frozen treats with rodents that helps them cool down while they lick.
Q: Acquiring new animals is part of your job ¬ ¬– you recently added a few new ones?
A: Part of our mission is to help educate the public about our native wildlife. All of them are native to Massachusetts and they could not be rehabilitated, but injuries prevented them from surviving in the wild ¬– that’s why they are here. Recently Drumlin Farm became home to a non-releasable kestrel (a small falcon) as well as an opossom. These animals will assist us in our presentation programs and help teach children and adults about the beauty and value of our wildlife.
Q: You’re training the new opossom to be comfortable during programming encounters with people?
A: I train naturalists so they learn to safely handle the animals; at the same time, the well-being of the animals always comes first. This means that we never touch the animals, because this would stress them. Instead, they often respond to treats, similar to clicker training for dogs. This is standard when working with wild animals. They remain safe behind plexiglass fencing, so the audience is never able to harm them, yet people are still able to view and appreciate their behavior.
Q: With everything from pigs, sheep, goats, chickens, and cows to crow, raven, owls, hawks at Drumlin Farm, do you have a favorite animal?
A: I would be hard-pressed to pick one – I like them all. I’m an ornithologist, so birds in general are my favorite. Being from Italy, I followed them in the Alps for work, and my research has always brought me back to birds. They’re cool in that every part of their body has adapted so that they can fly.