Wildlife rehab group to have new home

Keeper of the Wild is a nonprofit that takes care of about 3,500 orphaned and injured wildlife annually, including this orphaned bobcat that was raised and released into the wild.

With a deadline to move looming, a longtime Lowcountry wildlife rehabilitation charity and property owner have worked out legal concerns over a conservation easement and are set to sign a lease this week for a new home near Walterboro.

Keeper of the Wild founder Janet Kinser and property owner Mary-Julia Royall plan to sign a lease allowing the nonprofit to use 11 acres of a 211-acre “tree farm” — known as Rooty Hill — on Cooler Dairy Road.

The original agreement, which included a 100-year lease, was called into question in the spring by the Lowcountry Open Land Trust. At Royall’s request, the conservation group placed a conservation easement on the land in December 2011.

After the trust put the brakes on the plan, a new lease was worked out calling for 10 years with a renewal for five years.

“I feel very good about this now,” says Barbara Holmes, the attorney for the land trust.

Royall said she was happy that six months of delays and wrangling were over.

“Janet and me were saying yippee,” added the 89-year-old Mount Pleasant resident who thinks a wildlife rehabilitation center is an ideal use for land she loves and wants to save from development.

Last winter, Keeper of the Wild was notified by the S.C. Forestry Commission that the organization would have to vacate property it used for the past decade off Highway 15 near St. George, located in the upper part of Dorchester County.

Keeper of the Wild was at the end of a 10-year non-renewable lease agreement with the forestry commission and it wanted to return the land to active forest management.

The all-volunteer organization annually takes in about 3,500 animals, ranging from squirrels and raccoons to bobcats and bears, that have been injured or orphaned largely by human actions, rehabilitates them and returns them to the wild. Currently, Kinser says, volunteers are housing nearly 900 orphaned or injured animals in their homes.

With an original moving date of Jan. 31, the organization was scrambling to find land when board member and veterinarian Brian King told client Anne DuPre Royall and her mother, Mary-Julia Royall, both of Mount Pleasant, of the situation.

Kinser says she was hoping for a longer-term lease so that the organization wouldn’t risk investing in buildings that would have to be vacated in 10 years, similar to the situation near St. George.

Besides helping Keeper of the Wild continue helping wildlife, Royall said that the proposed facility also would provide much-needed oversight for the land, which has been subject to trespassing and potentially other undesirable activities in future.