Mathias has cared for Carolina's Raptors for over 34 years

Few people know more about Carolina Raptor Center’s history than Mathias Engelmann, Senior Rehabilitation Coordinator, long-time volunteer and friend of the organization.

During his first semester as a biology student at UNCC, Mathias came across an exhibit organized by Carolina Raptor Center on campus. Before that day, he said, “I was not a bird person – I had no experience with birds. I was a cat and dog person, just like everybody else.”

But after his first look at a raptor -- nose to beak -- he was hooked. Soon after, he started volunteering with the Raptor Center during his free time after classes. “I was fascinated by the birds right from the start, and thought it was amazing to be able work so closely with them, get hands on experience and observe how they act.”

That was 34 years ago, in 1983. Since then, his part-time volunteer work quickly turned into a full-time volunteer position, which grew into a paid staff position soon after that. His responsibilities increased just as rapidly – from cutting up food, cleaning cages, feeding and watering the birds to assisting with rehabilitation and medical care for injured raptors. Within two years, Mathias became the Raptor Center’s Rehab Coordinator, and was responsible for training and managing other volunteers.

During his tenure, the Raptor Center has grown tremendously. “Every single component of our work has changed over the past three decades,” said Mathias. “From a shed in the middle of the woods to the plans for the Quest Adventure Center and Raptor Medical Hospital. From zero staff and a handful of volunteers to more than twenty staff and hundreds of volunteers.”

These changes have allowed the Raptor Center to increase its capacity to care for injured birds and become a leader in the rehabilitation community. Mathias credits Dave Scott, Staff Veterinarian, with adding critical medical expertise to the team after his arrival in 2008. Under his direction, more than 900 injured and orphaned raptors are brought to Carolina Raptor Center’s hospital annually. This represents an increased patient load of 34% since 2008.

Today, rehabilitators from across the country look to the Raptor Center team for medical expertise and best practices. “We’ve always been a teaching facility,” said Mathias. “It is incredible to see volunteers progress – especially students with no idea what they are doing who turn their experiences at the Raptor Center into a career. The Our Quest Campaign will be an amazing next step for our rehabilitation and teaching efforts.”

A new Medical Center is an important aim of Our Quest, and will include increased capacity for the care and treatment of injured raptors, a state-of-the-art surgical suite, learning labs for interns and visiting students and web-enabled HD cameras for observing the improvement of injured birds. The new center will allow Raptor Center staff and volunteers to deeply involve visitors in the rehabilitation process without interfering and stressing the animals.

The ability to provide high quality education and research opportunities through its rehabilitation program is core to the Raptor Center’s DNA. "Our Quest," said Mathias, “will keep us at the forefront of raptor rehabilitation for decades to come.”