Fight or flight: How Wings of Hope became a Livingston Parish safe haven during the flood

They were flooded in.

The rest of Livingston Parish was under water, and though they hadn’t taken on any water themselves, Leslie Lattimore and the animals she rehabilitates at Wings of Hope Wildlife Sanctuary were surrounded by it. They were an island, she says.

Either she would stay and hope the water didn’t engulf them, or she would leave. There would be no way back in or out for days. But Lattimore was not leaving the animals behind. She was going to stay with them, like she always had during previous floods.

Lattimore has directed and operated the sanctuary for so long that she barely remembers what year it began. It was officially incorporated as a nonprofit more than two decades ago but was operating years before that, she says. She has dedicated her life to the sanctuary, treating and caring for wild animals from native birds to foxes, bats, skunks and other mammals that are injured, orphaned or unable to care for themselves. She rehabilitates them and then returns them to their natural habitats when they’re ready.

Wings of Hope is one of the only federally permitted rehabilitating sanctuaries in the entire state.

“There isn’t any place that would take wildlife like this during a flood for sure,” Lattimore says. “It’s something I don’t even want to think about, because I would’ve had to let them fend for themselves.”

Luckily, Lattimore says, Wings of Hope lived up to its name and became a safe haven for her and her beloved wildlife as the facility stayed dry during Louisiana’s historic summer flooding. Despite being surrounded by chaos, she still managed to take in a bird someone brought her, an orphaned Mississippi kite that had fallen out of its nest during the flood. Protecting wildlife is simply in her nature, she says. No flood could stop that.

Lattimore’s relationship with animals is a special one. When she starts to speak, an assortment of macaws in her sanctuary sing right along with her. They get loud, but when she gives the birds one firm word, “Stop,” they all obey her command.

“They think it’s a conversation when I start to talk,” Lattimore says, chuckling.

While she will continue to rehab animals when possible, she says she is now focusing more on education and outreach, teaching community members how to interact with native wildlife and maybe learn to care for them, just as she has. wingsofhoperehab.org

This story was originally published in the October issue of 225 Magazine.