At a center outside Urbino, strong bonds form between man and animal.
Maurizio Saltarelli opens a shoe box and reaches in. The baby porcupine is so small it is able to fit, literally, in the palm of Saltarelli’s hand. It is time to feed the animal—again. An orphan whose mother was killed in an accident, the porcupine needs to eat every two hours.
But first Saltarelli gives the patient a reassuring tickle. The porcupine grins slightly. With the friendly recreation done, the animal is at ease and can enjoy its meal: a small chunk of cat food. Saltarelli delivers it by hand.
This interaction between man and animal, protector and dependent, is repeated over and again 24 hours a day and seven days a week at the Centro di Recupero Animali Selvatici, the Center for Wild Animal Rescue. The secluded, 6,400-acre facility sits at the end of a tooth-jarringly bumpy dirt road 10 kilometers outside of Urbino. Three employees and four volunteers dedicate their time and effort to make sure animals are healthy and secure. Since it was established in 2009, the center has taken in an average of 1,500 animals a year. They include raptors, wolves, foxes, wild boar, deer, turtles, and the occasional baby porcupine.
The center’s director is Lamberto Feduzi, 54, whose passion for protecting animals began when he was a ranger 22 years ago. He explains that the facility’s first priority is the daily care and feeding of animals recuperating in cages, pens, rooms, and cardboard boxes around the compound. But the center is also on call 24 hours a day to pick up injured or deceased animals anywhere within the Pesaro Urbino province. A government veterinarian determines whether each animal is well enough for recovery at the center or needs to be kept in a veterinary office.
Because Feduzi also holds a position with the Provincial Police, he says he cannot tend to all the center’s animals personally. He is grateful to have the help of devoted volunteers and employees, including Saltarelli, who lives near the center and has worked there since the doors opened in 2009.
Sometime after looking in on the porcupine, Saltarelli turns his attention to a box containing a black bird who needs help eating because of a broken beak. He uses two fingers to gently open the beak, then replaces his fingers with a set of tweezers. He inserts the young animal’s gourmet meal of ground pigeon meat. Satisfied that the bird has eaten enough, he places it back in its box.
Saltarelli’s favorite animals are raptors, eagles in particular. “They are noble animals,” he says. “And there are so many ways for them to be hurt in civilization.”
A raptor, in fact, is Saltarelli’s next stop. He heads over to the same room that houses the porcupine. It is full of cardboard boxes containing owls, fowl, and a hawk that has a broken right claw. Hawks use their claws to catch prey; in the wild, this bird would not be able to survive.
Saltarelli opens the large brown box; the hawk is distressed. Using tweezers, Saltarelli manages to give the bird most of the meal. As he lifts the hawk and returns it to the box, the bird clutches a last bit of meat with his left claw—a hopeful sign.
But when he returns a little later to check on the hawk, Saltarelli finds that it has not been able to eat that final portion on its own. He helps the bird finish his meal, feeding it by hand.
Many of the animals cared for by the center will heal, be released back to their natural habitats, and thrive. Will this lame hawk be lucky enough to one day fly away from its temporary cardboard nest and its friendly human protector? Saltarelli must hope so, but it’s impossible to predict—and he doesn’t have time to think about such questions.
Soon enough, it will again be time to check on the porcupine.