Follow The Republic:
The Bartholomew County 4-H Fairgrounds’ Conservation Club displays are without fawns, raccoons and opossums for the first time in about 30 years.
That’s how long Bartholomew County Conservation Council director and licensed wildlife rehabilitator Jim Mahoney and his wife, Nancy Mahoney, have been displaying the wild animals, which they find injured or abandoned and nurse back to health, at the 4-H Fair.
This year, the Mahoneys and other members of the Conservation Council are heeding Indiana Department of Natural Resources regulations and leaving the animals at home.
There’s always been a law prohibiting the display of wild animals without proper licensure, Bartholomew County Conservation Council President Ron Briner said.
“DNR regulation says we shouldn’t have ever done this,” Briner said, adding the decision to forgo the display came after other fairs wanted to set up similar exhibits, and “they were told by the DNR that they couldn’t have it.”
Since the fair opened July 6, Briner said many visitors have stopped to ask whether last week’s heat wave is to blame for the animals’ absence.
“It definitely is a respected attraction for the fair,” Mahoney, who has been rehabilitating wildlife alongside his wife for 50 years, said of the display. “And people are saying today, ‘Oh my goodness, no more animals.’”
Briner said displaying the wild animals helped educate fairgoers, many of whom had never seen some of the nocturnal species Mahoney brought to the fair.
The law, DNR Operations Staff Specialist Linnea Petercheff said, caters to the long-term health of wild animals.
“Wild animals that are taken from the wild … are not allowed to be on display because that can affect their ability to be released back into the wild,” she said.
While there are some wild animals — such as species of birds and mammals not native to Indiana — that can be displayed without credentials, she said, a game breeder license is required in order to display species such as deer and raccoons.
“That’s not a new requirement,” Petercheff said. “That’s been in place for some time.”
An instance of noncompliance, she said, is considered a Class C misdemeanor, which could include a fine up to $500 and up to 60 days of jail time.
Petercheff also said she wasn’t aware of many county fairs displaying wild animals.
The relationship between the DNR and the Conservation Council has been a friendly one — the two organizations recently partnered to create the Bill Newton Public Access Site, a boat ramp on the Driftwood River just west of Taylorsville.
The DNR’s Division of Fish and Wildlife, Briner said, funded installation of a road and a parking lot on the land the Conservation Council purchased.
Despite all the changes to the Conservation Council’s exhibit, the Conservation Club this year will be crawling — with humans instead of critters — thanks to the council’s fried Alaskan whitefish.
Proceeds generated from food sales benefit one of the council’s 12 member organizations, which in turn fund projects, scholarships and educational programs.
“We sell a lot of fish out here — probably 4 to 5 tons during the nine-day period,” Briner said. “That’s a lot of fish.”
Future plans for the building include removal of the animal pens, for which the council is currently taking bids. The entire area then will be blacktopped to make way for more picnic tables for hungry guests.
As for the Mahoneys, they will continue to legally and responsibly rehabilitate wild animals, although they no longer will be bringing their animals with them to the fairgrounds.
“It’s very disheartening, but we understand it’s the law,” Mahoney said. “As we progress through life, things change, and we have to buy into the change that’s presented to us. That’s what we’re doing.”
Think your friends should see this? Share it with them!
All content copyright ©2013 The Republic, a division of Home News Enterprises unless otherwise noted.