Freezing baby swans and discarded pythons: This is how a woman saves animals in Prospect Park

Freezing baby swans and discarded pythons: This is how a woman saves animals in Prospect Park

The call comes at 4:00 am. Some waterfowl are in trouble on the lake in Prospect Park, their webbed feet stuck, frozen to the ice covering the water. In the darkness before dawn, Marty Woess slips out of bed and races into the park, where she carefully glides across the dangerous ice to save the creatures.

Woess is a Wildlife and Aquatic Technician for the Prospect Park Alliance. She gets the call when there’s an injured raccoon, or a swan that swallowed a fish hook, or a turtle that got stuck somewhere.

New York City tends to settle down in the dead of winter, but the critters that inhabit the city’s parks still manage to get the likes of Woess roaming around. WNYC host Michael Hill spoke to Woess about her job as the park’s unsung hero.

This interview has been edited slightly for clarity.

Hill: Can you describe to us what you do?

Woess: Well, I take care of the lake and the stream in Prospect Park and also all the wildlife – native and wild I would say.

How did you come to this work?

I’ve always had something with animals, an affinity for animals. From the very beginning I have been helping out on my cousin’s farm many, many years ago. But I got the chance to work at London Zoo in the mid-1980s and the animals just took hold of me. Within a day I was dealing with snakes, iguanas and spiders. They call it. I love animals and they seem to like me for some reason.

I love animals too, but I have to be honest, when you start talking about a 12 foot snake, that’s where I draw the line. You once got a call about a 12 foot line at the park. Is that right?

Yes, it was an albino python. It was oddly dumped into the lake in a garbage bag, believe it or not. I got a call from the police and I shot down there and pulled it out of the water.

How did you pull it out of the water?

I got it! I do a lot of rescues with just my hands. Unless an animal bites me a severe or dangerous bite, I prefer to touch the animal and have a tactile feel.

you prefer it. You calm down more; Using gloves when not required can be problematic.

When you grabbed that 12 foot snake, how did the snake react?

Well, it wasn’t in good condition. It was in really bad shape, but most animals will respond just fine. You know, it’s very surprising how quickly animals calm down when given the right handling.

Do you think they sense this is a rescue operation and not something that puts them in danger?

Sometimes they do, sometimes they fight. You have to be prepared for all eventualities. Of course, when I’m dealing with raccoons I use special, highly rated animal gloves – or when I’m dealing with rats or squirrels or anything that can give you really nasty bites. I’ve handled many, many snakes over the years. You just have to support the animal properly and treat it properly.

Marty, how many times have you been bitten?

Actually only once in the park.

That’s very good! Now how many rescues would you say you do on average?

Last year I performed 251 actual rescues. These are not total animals. Sometimes I’ve found up to 30 raccoons in a giant dumpster. So we’re talking hundreds and hundreds of animals in the last year alone.

It sounds like these missions could be pretty dangerous. Not only because the animal could bite or scratch you, but because you sometimes have to venture onto an ice-covered lake.

That was only once. I mean it was a pair of cygnets [young swans] that had gone to a small patch of water and just froze to ice. I’ve done ice training many times and have taken every precaution. You know it had to be done. There was no way I would let these animals freeze to death in the ice. It was a matter of necessity. I was only out there 20 minutes and freed both of them.

Were you scared?

I’m not afraid of an animal. I think it’s the adrenaline that kicks in. I think of the animal and that’s all that matters to me.

I understand that a large part of your job is not only rescuing wild animals in distress but also trying to rescue pets that have been abandoned in the park. Tell us about it.

People seem to think that if they no longer want an animal, it will survive in the park. In 95% of cases this is not the case. The problem is also the impact it can have on the ecosystem here. Our largest turtle population are red-eared turtles, and they started out as humans discarding pets. They have reproduced; They are hardier than the native turtles. So you’ve actually become the most dominant turtle in the park, in the lake.

Impressive. I have a quote from someone involved in one of your recent rescues – 8-year-old Zella Riesche from Brooklyn. Last August she spotted a little bird in trouble – high up in a tree.

Riesche: “This bird was hanging from a fishhook connected to a string connected to a branch. The bird appeared to be in great pain, but it was alive and could survive a little longer.”

You sent out a call for help, and it turns out you arranged this rescue. What should people do when they see an animal in distress?

Okay, well, if you don’t know me and don’t have my phone number, you should call 3-1-1. That would be put through to the rangers.

Marty, any messages to park visitors to keep wildlife safe so we can all live together?

To be responsible. take your trash with you If you are a fisherman, please act responsibly. You need to tidy up your line and hooks. Make sure you have the right hooks, the legal hooks. It’s about taking responsibility for your actions in a park and cleaning up after yourself.

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