VANCLEAVE, MS (WLOX) - Some might call him the 'patron saint of wildlife' in South Mississippi.
James Askew is like Doctor Doolittle in many ways. He's fun, quirky, and one of the few veterinarians in this region that can treat wild and exotic animals. He's called on by wildlife rehabbers near and far.
For more than two decades this local veterinarian has devoted much of his time, outside of his private practice, to saving South Mississippi's wild animals.
His attire, eclectic. His personality, colorful. His love for wildlife? Undeniable. If it flies, squawks, slithers or swims, and it's injured, James Askew does his best to fix it.
These pet tortoises that were attacked by a dog are being treated as part of his regular veterinary practice. But year round, Dr. Askew gets calls like this from wildlife rehabbers. Why put yourself on call for 24 hours a day for no pay?
"Because the world needs it. This planet is going to hell in a hand basket," he stated. "We encroach, we do so much harm. Just the building of a simple home may get get rid of several birds homes, several tortoises homes."
Thousands of animals are injured each year by fishing nets, hooks and trash in our waterways. In one case, a fishing line wrapped so tightly around a pelican's leg, rehabbers thought the leg might have to amputated.
Thankfully, there was good news. "You just need some more time dude. No amputation for you," he said to the pelican soothingly.
"He teaches us a lot. It puts us on own own, because we're spread out all over the gulf coast and throughout North Mississippi, so to be able to just contact him, and say I'm having this problem. A lot of times he can diagnose without even seeing them," said Maggie Wooten with Wild at Heart.
Between Askew and wildlife rehabbers like Maggie, volunteers from Wild at Heart rescued and cared for more than 3,000 animals last year alone. They were able to release all but 300 of them. Plans are in the works to build an animal hospital at Wild at Heart, which Askew says could help save as many as 1,000 more animals each year.
"To be there, to make that difference, and to maybe put them back somewhere else, or just to save their lives in the process, that's what I live for," Askew noted.
Animals always get sick and injured. I asked, why not just let nature take it's course?
He explained, "Nature is not nature anymore. We as a species, since we changed it, we owe them. We've got to do something different. Our approach to nature and wildlife has got to be different than it was 20 or 30 years ago."