Staff writer

KAWASAKI — The nation’s first private wildlife protection center was set up here in April and has since been busy saving birds and educating local citizens about nature.

Kunitoshi Baba, 50, a veterinarian with 25 years of experience at an animal hospital in the city, established the Kawasaki Wildlife Volunteer Center after participating in volunteer efforts to save waterfowl during the Gulf War and after a major oil spill off the coast of Fukui Prefecture last year.

The Kawasaki center is a two-story wooden structure, which, apart from an X-ray room and treatment room, has an indoor pool for waterfowl and an air-conditioned recovery room.

Roughly 100 birds — mostly brought in from the Kawasaki, Yokohama and Tokyo areas — are currently being cared for at the center. They range from sparrow and swallow chicks that have fallen out of their nests to a kite that was hit by a car during a low-altitude flight.

In many cases, the wounds are the result of human carelessness, such as fishing lines left along rivers, Baba said. The wounds and broken wings are treated, and the birds are kept at the center until they gather enough strength to return to the wild.

Three veterinarians provide most of the medical treatment, but chores such as cleaning cages and feeding the animals are done by 300 children and adults who volunteer at the center.

By helping out, they gain basic knowledge about caring for wild birds. “I would like to have this center become a model for encouraging people to take part in volunteer work, and I want to see more people help in the rehabilitation of wild animals,” Baba said.

Local elementary school kids and kindergartners who visit the center gain an appreciation for the environment, he said. By being in contact with wild animals from an early age, children can learn to coexist with nature, he said.

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