Being a Front-Desk Coordinator: Caroline Elpers

Caroline outside the Wildlife CenterCaroline Elpers is a front-desk coordinator at the Wildlife Center. She serves as the voice of the Wildlife Center to the public by answering calls and emails; dispensing advice on how best to help injured, orphaned, or sick wildlife; counseling citizens on how to most effectively live with their wild neighbors; greeting lobby visitors; and admitting patients to the Center's busy hospital.

See Caroline at work in season 1 of our TV series, UNTAMED: Life is Wild!

How did you come to work at the Wildlife Center? What’s your background?

I graduated from the University of Virginia in 2018 after studying biology and conservation. I knew I wanted to work with wildlife, but I wasn't sure exactly what I wanted to do. During my last semester at UVA, I started to volunteer at Rockfish Wildlife Sanctuary in Nelson County. They specialize in raising healthy orphaned wildlife. When I graduated, they offered me a position as a rehabilitator for the summer. I worked closely with the Wildlife Center that summer and was very impressed with the organization. As my time with Rockfish was ending, the Wildlife Center was looking for a new front-desk coordinator. After working with wildlife for the summer I knew I wanted to stay in the field of wildlife rehabilitation and moving to work at the Wildlife Center seemed like the natural next step. I have been here for nine months now and have loved every minute of it!

What’s the most challenging part of being a front-desk coordinator?

The most challenging part of being a front-desk coordinator is the fact that we can't save every animal we receive calls about. In the summer, we can easily receive 70+ animal calls in a day and there are some cases that are never resolved. Since we're so busy, we're not able to follow up on an animal that never showed up. We don't know if it went to another facility, passed away, managed to escape from their rescuer, or something else. There are also situations where we do everything we can to save an animal, and it passes away before we can find transport. Everyone here at the Center cares deeply for all wildlife in Virginia, but we're only human -- sometimes our best is not enough. Working at the front desk means that you have to come to terms that you will not save every animal. You need to find comfort in knowing you are making a difference and the animals that were saved wouldn't have been without you.

What’s the best part of being a front-desk coordinator?

My favorite part of working at the front desk is delivering good news – arranging releases and giving patient updates to rescuers when their rescued animal is ready for release. Whenever I give the good news, the rescuer is always ecstatic and it’s hard not to become happy yourself. We have so many stories that don't end well, so we really appreciate all of the patients that have a happy ending.

Holding a BuffleheadWhat’s your favorite waterbird story?

Just a month after starting at the Wildlife Center, on November 20, 2018, I admitted Bufflehead #18-3068. This waterbird was found quite sad and unable to fly. At first, we weren’t sure if he would be able to recover since he was having a difficult time swimming and did not have the correct waterproofing. The bufflehead slowly gained waterproofing and swam better and better as the days went by. Finally, after about a month, the Bufflehead was ready to be released! This patient has been the only Bufflehead to be admitted to the Center in recent history and I am so happy I was able to be a part of a great story.

What’s your advice for someone who wants to work in the wildlife field?

Whenever I have someone visit or call who is interested in working with wildlife, especially in rehabilitation, I tell them to get as much experience as possible before making a decision. Volunteer, take classes, and find externships and internships. Working with wildlife can be very emotionally draining. Not every patient is a success story and you have to be prepared for long hours. Gaining experience through volunteering or externships will give you a good idea of how taxing and rewarding rehabilitation can be and help you decide if it's something for you.

Looking for more information and advice on working with wildlife?