Wellington Conservation Center Offers Unique Animal Encounters

Sherri Carfi with black and white ruffed lemurs Mork and Mittens.

Did you ever wonder what happens to the animals when a roadside attraction closes, or a cash-strapped animal dealer has too much inventory to feed, or when a cute little potbellied pig outgrows her owner’s bed and approaches 200 pounds?

Some of these unwanted critters have already become your neighbors at the Wellington Conservation Center, where occupants range from a rare, four-pound Saharan pale fox who likes to hide under blankets, to a 2,200-pound orphan named KJ, who is perhaps the world’s most affectionate Hereford steer.

The Wellington Conservation Center is home to more than 30 castoff animals and is now taking reservations for private tours. Home to unwanted, abandoned and injured animals, the facility rescues and cares for native and exotic creatures, many of whom are endangered from habitat loss and poaching.

“We are a fully licensed Class I, II and III facility,” said Sherri Carfi, who along with her husband Matthew, founded the nonprofit organization located near the southern edge of Wellington in the Palm Beach Point community.

Carfi and her husband are entrepreneurs from Wisconsin who became heavily involved there with the plight of black bears.

“We love animals and got started by rescuing black bear cubs whose nursing moms were killed by hunters,” she said. “Most hunters don’t have the heart to shoot the cubs, so we provided an option.”

The family still operates a bear rescue facility on 100 acres it leases up north but is focusing on using the Wellington facility as a public education and awareness tool.

Animals currently housed at the facility include: black and white ruffed lemurs, wallabies, a crab-eating raccoon, capybaras, Sulcata tortoises, a pale fox, two-toed sloths, a pot-bellied pig, a wild hog, a crested porcupine, alpacas, rabbits and KJ the Hereford steer.

“KJ is my favorite animal here,” Carfi said. “We have had her since a neighbor gave us this tiny little calf whose mother died giving birth. We love providing homes to animals like KJ, who would normally be put down.”

Meanwhile, KJ happily glides across her yard over to Carfi and gives her some slurping kisses as she feeds him fresh crescents and rubs his head.

“We would not feed the animals anything that we would not eat ourselves, so while we accept food donations, it has to be the good stuff for us to feed it to our furry friends,” said Carfi, who noted that the animals eat about a $1,000 a week worth of groceries.

While carefully petting a porcupine is really cool, and hand feeding a baby sloth while it’s nestled in mama sloth’s arms is really fun, the stars of the show are the black and white ruffed lemurs, Mork who is four years old and Mittens who is two. “Mittens is almost ready for breeding,” said Carfi, who hopes to establish a breeding population of lemurs at the Wellington Conservation Center as her small part in preserving the species.

Lemurs are the only animals that the organization purchases for that purpose — all the others are rescues.

“We want to invite everyone in the community to come out and interact with our animals,” Carfi said. “We know people will fall in love, and hopefully the result will be even more public interest and awareness about wildlife conservation and habitat protection.”

The facility is supported from grants, trusts and local sponsors. All donations are 100 percent tax deductible and directly aid in the caring of the animals. Whenever possible, a goal of the center is to reintroduce animals to their natural habitats.

Although not open to the general public, the Wellington Conservation Center gives guided tours by appointment. Admission costs $15 for adults and $10 per child. Call (954) 448-1044 for reservations. Guided tours are by reservation only, available daily at 10 a.m., 1:30 p.m. and 3 p.m. For more information, visit www.wellingtonwildlifesanctuary.org.