Categorized | Environment, Featured

Hawaii Wildlife Center celebrates grand opening

(Hawaii 24/7 photo by Karin Stanton)

Karin Stanton | Hawaii 24/7 Editor

The Hawaii Wildlife Center is officially open for business, although the bird rescue facility in Kapaau still needs equipment and supplies before it will be fully operational.

Saturday’s grand opening came after years of planning, fundraising and one simple exchange of emails.

CEO and founder Linda Elliott said she feels a sense of accomplishment, but knows the work really has just begun.

“There is an incredible satisfaction. My happy meter is beyond full today,” she said. “Now that we’re built, we need to get operational. I’d like to see use take in the first birds by the end of the year.”

The $3 million HWC is the only facility in Hawaii equipped for the emergency response and care of native birds and native Hawaiian bat. It consists of three units: wildlife care and emergency response; education pavilion; and interpretive courtyard.

Elliott and five staff members will provide medical/husbandry care for sick and injured wildlife for up to 200 birds at a time, and will be the only emergency first-response resource during natural and manmade disasters that may occur throughout the Hawaiian archipelago and around the Pacific.

In the event of massive disasters, HWC will be available to take in wildlife from around the globe.

The annual operating budget is projected at $360,000, with much of the funding coming from grants, donations, program fees and the HWC gift shop.

Elliott has a list of supplies still needed to get the center up and running – everything from $3 feeding bowls to $12,000 aviaries. Donations may be made through the center’s website.

The center has been a dream from Elliott for more than a decade, but construction did not begin until 2009 on more than 2 acres of land donated by Surety Kohala Corporation.

Linda Elliott greets guests at Saturday's grand opening. (Hawaii 24/7 photo by Karin Stanton)

Funding came from grants and donations – financial, materials and even architectural.

That’s where the emails come in. Board member Paul Ryan said Elliott received an email about five years ago from Will Rule, who she did not know.

When Rule said he’d like to help out, Elliott asked what he did. Rule, whose parents were avid birders, said he was an architect based in Boston.

Elliott’s reply was short: Design me a building. Rule said OK and flew out to Hawaii within a month.

“Since then, he and his staff have donated 2,500 hours of their professional services and that’s just the beginning,” Ryan said. “He’s been absolutely dedicated to this project.”

Ryan also credits Elliott for her tireless work.

“I don’t think I’ve ever met a more inspirational visionary than Linda,” Ryan said. ” She is able to see the big picture as well as all the little details that are in front of her every day.”

As a board member, Ryan said he sees bigger role for the center than avian aid.

“I don’t actually think about the birds. That’s too modest an ambition,” he said. “Hawaii is known as the extinction capitol of the world, but it gets only 3 percent of the endangered species funding in the U.S. The center has the potential to raise awareness about our failure to save habitat. Hopefully, what you’ll see is a whole new level of conservation and protection.”

The center is adjacent to Kohala Middle School, which has adopted HWC as a pet project. Students have watched the center being built and pitched in where they could.

“That has been huge,” Elliott said. “It’s going to be great to make opportunities in science and conservation available to the students here now and in the future.”

Eighth-grader Gabrielle Bartolone was one of the students serving as hosts and tour guides for the 300 guests at Saturday’s grand opening.

“While they were building it, it was usually loud,” she said. “But today on a scale of 1 to 10 is an 11. It’s so great. See these plants right here, we helped plant them.”

Bartolone admitted she’s not a big bird lover, but is excited just the same.

“I wasn’t really interested in birds, but I’m really into sustainability and conservation and this has solar panels so that’s cool,” she said. “Of course I’m going to volunteer. I live close within walking distance so I’m going to be here pretty much all the time.”

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