A Wild Life

Sparks’ Ark is a lifeline for wild animals in Maine

It all started when I was a little kid,” says Josh Sparks, a wildlife expert at Sparks’ Ark Animal Services. A truck carrying live chickens to market rolled over in Gorham, Josh recalls, and his grandmother caught a few in a laundry basket, then his father, David, brought them home. “Then we got some pheasants, and then we got pigeons,” says Josh. It grew from there. By the early ’80s, people had started to bring sick or injured wild animals to the family’s home, so they became licensed to rehabilitate wild animals. By 1995 Sparks’ Ark was a full-time operation specializing in animal rescue, removal, rehabilitation, and relocation.

The most essential part of the operation is the safety of both wild animals and humans. Josh stresses the importance of keeping a healthy distance between oneself and any wild animals. “Even though what we see may look like they’re in distress, and we feel like they need help,” he says, “95 percent of the time, they don’t.” If an animal appears to be in trouble, “the best thing you can do is leave them there first, call a wildlife rehabilitator or a game warden, and see if you can get more information before you go pick it up and put it in a box,” says Josh.

David retired in 2012, and Josh has largely been operating the business on his own. When he isn’t rescuing, removing, rehabilitating, or relocating animals, Josh is traveling the state to teach and speak at more than 200 educational programs and birthday parties every year. Josh brings a handful of animals with him to each event. Guests may see a sugar glider, chinchilla, hedgehog, bearded dragon, fennec fox, barn owl, ferret, bat, or boa constrictor, depending on the circumstances. In addition, Josh takes in pets that can no longer be cared for or are unwanted (but no dogs or cats, please). “Some of those will come live with me forever, some of those end up finding new homes, and that depends on the animal,” he says. For example, a yellow-bellied turtle was surrendered to him a few weeks ago. Since yellow-bellies are considered an invasive species in Maine, he was unable to keep it here. Instead, it found a new home in South Carolina. Whatever the species, an animal that winds up at Sparks’ Ark is in good hands.

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