Q & A: Amanda Wilkerson


Wildlife WisdomAmanda Wilkerson Educates our Community on Rehabilitating Rescued Wildlife

By Christy Kearney 

As president and director of the Emerald Coast Wildlife Refuge, Amanda Wilkerson  takes a walk on the wild side every day. After moving to Northwest Florida from her hometown of Dallas in 2000 to pursue a degree in zoo science at Pensacola Junior College, she then began her career as a marine mammal trainer along the Gulf Coast.

Wilkerson started as a volunteer at the Emerald Coast Wildlife Refuge, a licensed wildlife rehabilitation center, while going to school and working. Her volunteer work has evolved into what she considers her “dream job.” The refuge has grown tremendously since its inception in 1994, with focuses on rescue, rehabilitation and release of injured and orphaned animals and on education and research of the local environment.

As the refuge has matured, so has Wilkerson’s role with the organization. She now is charged with overseeing the daily operations of the refuge and planning for its future, which promises to be bright with plans for a new rehabilitation and educational center at the Nokuse Plantation in Freeport.

Emerald Coast Magazine’s Christy Kearney caught up with Wilkerson at the Emerald Coast Wildlife Refuge’s center in Destin.

EC: What is your background with animal rehabilitation?

AW: I went to school for zoo science, and I had internships in a zoo background. My true passion, and what I went to school for, was to be a sea lion trainer. My first real job was as a marine mammal trainer. It just kind of clicked that I love working with these animals, but I love seeing them in the wild more. I thought that by training and doing the shows, I would be able to educate people about these animals, but it wasn’t the message that I wanted to send. So I decided to make a switch and save them and let them go.

EC: What type of animals does the Emerald Coast Wildlife Refuge work with?

AW: We get an enormous range of animals. We see tons of bird species, all your land mammals – bobcats, foxes, coyotes, opossums and raccoons – reptiles, plus marine mammals and sea turtles.

EC: How has the refuge grown over the years?

AW: Wildlife rehabilitation is a relatively new field. It’s gone through a huge transition from being backyard rehabilitators to including professional people in the industry. The refuge has gone through that same transition since 1994. Now, if an animal comes here, we have an actual working clinic; we have a staff of educated people. We have 32 years of combined animal experience from all different backgrounds – aquariums, zoos and research facilities. We’re going to put the animals in the best situation and set them up for success.

EC: Why do you think the efforts of the refuge are so important for our community?

AW: I personally feel that the most important thing we do, and the reason I have chosen wildlife rehabilitation, is the education factor. Plus, there is the basic fact that when somebody has a baby bird or squirrel that’s showing up in their backyard at 6 p.m. and they’re a nervous wreck and don’t know what to do, we’re here for them. That makes a huge difference to the people in our community.

EC: How is the refuge partnering with the Nokuse Plantation?

AW: Nokuse Plantation is a 53,000-acre piece of property where the E.O. Wilson Biophilia and Wildlife Refuge Center are being built. It is going to be one of the first of its kind to include both education and rehabilitation. The rehabilitation clinic is not only a fully functioning veterinary clinic; it is actually a very large teaching tool. The plan is to offer through the school districts a one-week environmental science program for fourth-graders, as well as middle and high school programs. We are hoping to have it fully operational by the 2008 school year.