DeLAND, Fla. - Tom Scotti knows his way around Central Florida. The Volusia County animal rescue expert puts more than 2,000 miles a month on his Toyota FJ Cruiser tracking down injured wildlife.
Scotti, founder of Ahopha Wildlife Rescue, has always had an appreciation for animals. In fact, Scotti says the word Ahopha means "to treat with respect," in the language of the Lakota Native American people.
"Our goal is to try to convey to people the need for not only respecting the wildlife but also respect the environment. This is the very reason, the lack of that respect, why we're seeing so many of the animals that we see," Scotti said.
As a lineman for Florida Power and Light, Scotti was often the one called to rescue wildlife near power lines.
Today, the South Florida native's phone rings several times a day with calls from people who see injured animals in their yards, along roadsides and in parking lots.
Scotti said he'll respond to just about any call except those involving bears and alligators.
"It's really the equivalent of what would be an EMT or ambulance service for humans but for wildlife," Scotti said from behind the wheel. He was driving through West Volusia County looking for an injured sandhill crane.
What Scotti does through the nonprofit is unique in that he will go to the scene of an injured animal and either help the animal on location or bring it to a rehabilitation center. Most rehab centers are willing to help but ask you to bring the animal to them.
"People have no means of capturing these animals," Scotti said. "A lot of these animals can hurt you real bad when you try to get a hold of them. They don't know you're trying to help them. They're fighting for their life when you grab a hold of them."
Scotti's vehicle is packed with a host of cages, nets, special tools and gloves to help safely capture injured wildlife. Scotti said 95% of the animals he helps are injured because of the actions of humans.
Earlier this month, Scotti helped a sandhill crane with a piece of plastic stuck on its beak. It was unable to eat. Scotti used a special net to capture the bird. Within minutes, he removed the ring and set it free.
Scotti said that was a scenario he sees far too often. Birds get trash caught on their beaks all the time, everything from paperclips to washers and bottle tops, all of which can mean death.
Karen Browning has been volunteering with Ahopha Wildlife rescue and nominated Scotti for the News 6 Getting Results Award.
"He's amazing, he's actually a wildlife hero," Browning said. "This is his life. His life is helping animals."
Ahopha Wildlife Rescue hopes to acquire land for a future rehab center.
If you'd like to nominate someone for a Getting Results Award, click here.
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