Archive for April, 2014

Rockfish Wildlife Sanctuary

Monday, April 14th, 2014

Ninety-nine percent of injured or orphaned wildlife are due to human actions. What measures should you take when you discover injured or orphaned wildlife? Noted Scottish-American naturalist John Muir wrote, “When we tug at a single thing in nature, we find it attached to the rest of the world.”

Jessie ColeSince its inception in 2004, the Rockfish Wildlife Sanctuary has treated almost 3,000 wild animals, representing 60 species of native birds, mammals, reptiles, and amphibians. It has educated local audiences throughout Central Virginia about the habitats and needs of our native wildlife and provided information on what to do when an injured or orphaned animal is found and who to contact for help.

Wildlife rehabilitators Jesse Cole and Nathou Attinger spoke at our Wednesday, April 9, 2014 meeting. The program was moderated by SSV board member Jim Peterson. In the podcast,  Jesse (pictured here) and Nathou talk about some of the organizations past and future projects. Their slide show can be downloaded here, which will add much to the appreciation of their talk.


Jessie Cole grew up in Charlottesville, Virginia, around animals and nature her whole life. Her wonderful parents, who are animal lovers themselves, instilled in her a passion for helping all kinds of wild and domestic animals. That, coupled with her love of nature, led her to Rockfish Wildlife Sanctuary (RWS). Jessie has been working at RWS rehabilitating wildlife, training interns and volunteers, and working on public outreach since 2008. She attended The Covenant School after which she continued her education at Christopher Newport University, where she earned a BS in Biology with a minor in Anthropology. When she graduated in 2008, she returned to Charlottesville where she met Nathou Attinger, founder of RWS, and began her apprenticeship under her guidance to earn her wildlife rehabilitator’s license, which took two years to acquire. Jessie says of RWS, “Every day is a reward to be able to help Virginia’s wildlife, and I could not imagine spending my time on earth any other way. I am so lucky to be a part of such a wonderful organization.”

Nathou AttingerNathou Attinger was born in France, and moved to the United States at age 3. Nonhuman animals always fascinated her, and as soon as her family moved to a house with a yard, she started taking care of them. Dogs, cats, turtles, pigeons, raccoons, anything that seems to need her help is scooped up and taken care of in her bedroom. She got her BA in French Literature at UVA, got married and had a daughter. In 1982 she started the Elementary Montessori School of Charlottesville (Mountain Montessori) for her daughter while she was working as the administration head of the Emergency Room at UVA Hospital. Her love of the outdoors won out, however, and she attended Piedmont Virginia Community College at night to learn about landscaping. She then started her own landscaping company. While landscaping, she also attained her wildlife rehabilitator’s license and began to start working with wildlife. She would take baby animals with her while she was landscaping to make sure they could be fed during the day. Finally, in 2004, the Rockfish Wildlife Sanctuary was born, and has been growing ever since.

Program Summary

Jessie Cole, wildlife rehabilitator with the Rockfish Wildlife Sanctuary (RWS), assisted by a screech owl and an opossum, described the services available for injured and orphaned wildlife. Also participating in the presentation were RWS board members Nathou Attinger and Jim Peterson.

The sanctuary was founded in 2004 by Nathou Attinger to provide care for injured and orphaned wildlife while they are being prepared for release back into the wild. The sanctuary is staffed by licensed rehabilitators, student interns, and trained volunteers. Over 600 animals received services in 2013.

In addition to direct care for birds, mammals, and reptiles, RWS educates people about the needs and habitats of wildlife and their impact on the environment. Urban development is increasingly encroaching on wildlife habitat, and as a result, more and more of Virginia’s native animals are in need of the care RWS provides.
Persons caring for wildlife must be licensed by both the state and federal government or be under the direct supervision of a licensed rehabilitator.

Since its inception, the sanctuary has been housed at a private residence. For the past several years efforts have been underway to secure a permanent home for the program, and recently 20 acres in Nelson County were purchased. After the necessary zoning, engineering and building requirements were addressed, construction began in December. The board raised $350,000 between April of last year and the present to cover the costs of site work and construction. Completion is expected in June.