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Omaha Magazine

Badgers to Bobcats

Nov 01, 2022 08:18AM ● By Dwain Hebda
Scott Hansen in the wild life

Photo by Bill Sitzmann

As executive director for Nebraska Wildlife Rehab, Laura Stastny has a thousand stories from years of rescuing, rehabilitating, and re-homing wild animals. During her career, she’s dealt with everything from raccoons and opossums to waterfowl and foxes.  

But she’s never seen an animal quite like Scott Hansen.  

“Scott is one in a million,” she said. “Rescues can be very difficult, and Scott’s got a really broad range of skills. He can think like an animal, so he has the mind to catch an animal, but he is also very fit and very fast. He’s our go-to person for our most difficult field rescues.” 

For Hansen, 45, rescues are what he loves most about volunteering for NWR. (He’s a facilities manager with Merck Animal Health for his day job.) There’s virtually no situation a wild animal can get into from which he can’t extract them, often in spectacular fashion.  

“I am an adventurist. I do take risks,” he said. “That’s part of why they send me on these things because while I do have a very strong safety focus, I take enough risks to have the best chance for success.” 

Over the past decade, Hansen’s volume of rescues reads like panels from a superhero comic. He’s leaned out of speedboats to snag an injured goose, paddled a kayak in subzero temperatures to rescue a pelican, helped relocate an entire prairie dog town, and re-homed countless orphaned critters. He’s twice jumped off a speeding airboat—once when it was headed for shore with the bird in its path. Hansen famously stepped off the bow, scooped the bird to safety with a net, and landed on dry land without so much as a scratch or a splash. 

“For the most part I work locally, but I have contributed statewide,” he said. “I’ve gone three hours just to pick up a raccoon. I’ve driven a couple of hours to find some orphan badgers near Norfolk. My favorite, by far, are pelican rescues because they’re so fun. It’s always an adventure.” 

Waterfowl are the most common of Hansen’s assignments, as birds find their way to lakes in parks and residential developments. Some, such as pelicans, are too lost or too hurt to continue their migration. Others, like ducks and geese, are fed by well-intentioned residents and thus incentivized to stick around until the inevitable happens.  

“They get caught in fishing line, that’s the most common thing,” Hansen said. “Discarded fishing line gets tangled around their feet or their bill or some other body part. It cuts off circulation, it digs into tissues, and it can keep them from performing normal activities like paddling. Or, if they can’t move one of their feet, maybe they can’t fly so they just have to stay on the ground or on the water.” 

Another highlight of Hansen’s volunteer work is NWR’s bat rescue which culminates with a public release party, most recently at Joslyn Art Museum. The event has been on hiatus since COVID in 2020, but Hansen has high hopes it will return in 2023. 

“Starting in October, any bat that’s captured we’ll keep until the following spring. If it’s cold out, there’s no insects for it to eat, so it can’t be released,” he said. Typically, between 1,000 and 1,500 people attend, including many families, to learn about bats and watch the release. 

“It’s not this massive cloud of bats where 300 bats take off all at once,” Hansen explained. “Five or six of us volunteers take 75 or so bats and take turns releasing them from our hands, one at a time. It’s a fun thing, and we’re hoping we can rejuvenate that event next year.” 

Heroics aside, Hansen said he enjoys serving an organization that helps people do the right thing, as well as servicing the animal’s needs. 

“They call us about an animal because they care, but they don’t know what to do. The respect and the gratitude that most people give back in return is something that makes me happy because I did something that made them happy,” he said. 

“The whole point is to give the animal another chance at its normal life, one that it should have had, had it not gotten hurt or orphaned. You want to help the animal because nobody wants to see the animal suffer. I feed off of other people being grateful that I was there. I like to be there for somebody else.” 

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This article originally appeared in the November/December 2022 issue of Omaha Magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

Photo by Bill Sitzmann


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