By Michelle Wagner | Outer Banks Voice on February 15, 2021
From the time she was a young child, Cape Hatteras Secondary School junior Haley Rosell has been chasing lizards. “I was [known as] the girl who saved lizards,” says the 16-year-old Rosell in a Voice interview. She acknowledges there was once a time when she was afraid of the reptiles, but that fear transformed into a passion after she caught and held her first lizard. Ever since, Rosell, a Hatteras Village resident, has been fascinated with the creatures. At times, she would care for as many as 50 of them.
Her fascination with reptiles has earned her much respect in the community. But she says she was teased quite a bit growing up for her obsession with reptiles. As for her family, Rosell jokes that, “My parents weren’t too happy” about the number of lizards in her care, and she thinks her older siblings “are mostly terrified of the animals I keep.”
Rosell began rehabilitating reptiles and birds after finding a Carolina Anole lizard five years ago in her yard. The lizard had a broken leg and after doing some research, Rosell learned that the leg would not heal, and that the lizard would likely end up with an infection in the bone. “So, I went ahead and amputated the leg and rehabbed him,” she recalls. “He did so well that I eventually released him.” Moving forward, Rosell continued to teach herself how to help heal injured wildlife, including snakes that need stitches and birds that need healing.
“I didn’t have a phone, and I didn’t have a computer,” she says, explaining how she initially learned her craft by experience. “I didn’t really have any way to look anything up, so I kind of just learned things as I went along.” In recent years, however, she has watched YouTube, consulted reptile channels like Snake Discovery and read a lot of books. “I’ve got so many different books on reptiles and birds,” Rosell notes.
One of her first snake rehabilitation efforts was an eastern water snake that was suffering from lacerations. She got out needle and thread, sterilized it, stitched up the snake, kept antibiotic cream on the wounds and nursed it back to health. Eventually, she was able to release the snake back into the wild.
Fast forward five years and Rosell doesn’t flinch at the idea of holding a venomous snake, patching up an injured reptile or assisting with a necropsy. She estimates that in her short career, she’s rehabilitated about 15 to 20 birds and 20 to 30 reptiles. And while her parents have relented in allowing her to have a pet ball python, much of her work with wildlife is confined to the garage or outside.
“The rule is — no snakes in the house,” Rosell explains. And while she has a number of birds, a couple of dogs and the python as pets, she’s especially drawn to another creature. “There is just something that fascinates me about lizards,” she says.
Rosell also holds an apprentice permit so she can help rescue cold-stunned sea turtles and has aided in those efforts since the sixth grade. On one particular day in 2016, she alone found 88 cold-stunned sea turtles.
In the last six months, she has also begun working with Lou Browning of Hatteras Island Wildlife Rehabilitation to gain more experience in helping to heal injured reptiles or raptors. Recently, she brought Browning a venomous cottonmouth snake that she found caught in some thorn bushes and that needed stitches. Over the years, Rosell has learned how to safely handle snakes to avoid getting bitten. She notes that it’s been helpful to work with Browning in recent months, adding that she’d like to pursue a career as a falconer and wildlife rehabilitator when she graduates.
“Instead of focusing on raptors like a lot of falconers do, I want to try to focus more on little songbirds,” Rosell explains. “Not as many people work on them just because of how tiny they are. But most of the birds I get that are in need of rehabbing are songbirds.”
Discussing the rewards of her work, Rosell declares that, “There’s nothing better than being able to see the bird that couldn’t fly, and weeks later just fly off to its home and have all of its friends welcome it back.”