Caring for creatures without advocates: A look inside a Signal Mountain squirrel sanctuary

Staff photo by C.B. Schmelter / University of Tennessee at Chattanooga lecturer Kate Kinnear talks to the Times Free Press outside of a squirrel release pen at the Marshall Creek Wildlife Rehabilitation and Conservancy on Wednesday, May 19, 2021 in Signal Mountain, Tenn.

Wildlife rehabilitator Kate Kinnear believes squirrels are the keepers of all the world's secrets. If she's right, her 11-acre property on Signal Mountain - where she estimates she's released about 300-400 squirrels back into the wild over the past year - is a treasure trove of wisdom.

Kinnear, an associate lecturer in environmental science at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, started rehabbing wildlife in 2012 at her home, where she runs Marshall Creek Wildlife Rehabilitation and Conservancy. In 2016, she was certified as a wildlife rehabilitation expert by the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency.

Although squirrels are her main focus, Kinnear also works with rabbits and occasionally flying squirrels and chipmunks. Last year she released around 100 rabbits into the wild, she said.

Sadly, rabbits have only a 60% chance of surviving when released, compared to about 85% of rehabilitated squirrels.