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Happy Thursday everyone- 

Welcome to the very first dispatch from the Appalachian Wildlife Refuge team! I am Kerri Conrad, the Development Coordinator. This month, I’m going to give you a behind-the-scenes look at what it takes to rescue, rehabilitate and release nearly 2,000 orphaned and injured wild animals each year, complete with lots of wildly wonderful photos!

This week, I’ll introduce you to our Executive Director, Savannah Trantham, and show you how one person’s dream has evolved and grown into the Appalachian Wildlife Refuge and all its moving parts!

Savannah Trantham is the executive director and founder of the Appalachian Wildlife Refuge. Photo: Provided by Appalachian Wildlife Refuge

Appalachian Wildlife Refuge’s Executive Director Savannah Trantham’s roots in Appalachia run deep. For generations, her family has farmed the land in Candler just outside of Asheville, North Carolina. Her own farm, a motley crew of rescued animals that needed a place to call their own, sits in the shadow of the house her grandfather built with his own two hands. The Appalachian mountains have stood against the same sky Savannah’s entire life, and it was from the rich mountain soil that her passion for the region’s wildlife grew and blossomed in the sun.

At the early age of 15, Savannah found a mentor in Janice Burleson, a licensed wildlife rehabilitator who specializes in squirrels with neurological disorders. With her dream of becoming a wildlife rehabilitator firmly rooted, Savannah attended college in Banner Elk, North Carolina, at Lees-McRae College, graduating with a Bachelor’s degree in biology with a concentration in wildlife rehabilitation. Savannah went on to save orphaned and injured wildlife in her free time, working for 16 years as an assistant animal curator at the WNC Nature Center in Asheville. 

During her tenure at the Nature Center, Savannah saw countless orphaned and injured wild animals being brought in by the community, a function the zoo was not designed to perform. She teamed up with Kimberly Brewster, a non-profit professional working at the Nature Center, and in 2014, Appalachian Wildlife Refuge became a registered non-profit.

Savannah Trantham began her career in a zoo setting before founding AWR. Photo: Provided by Appalachian Wildlife Refuge

AWR initially acted as a hub for orphaned and injured wildlife in peril, keeping tabs on the capacity of overwhelmed home-based wildlife rehabilitators, and helping transport animals to rehabilitation facilities in other parts of the state. In 2016, the Nature Center announced they could no longer accept wildlife in need, and the search for an animal care facility began. In 2017, a building was donated to Appalachian Wildlife Refuge that was gutted and rebuilt, a feat born of the blood, sweat and tears of Appalachian Wild volunteers. In July of 2018, the animal care facility opened as the region’s first wildlife emergency triage center, and has since evolved into a full-scale rehabilitation center, saving nearly 2,000 wild lives each year.

Appalachian Wildlife Refuge is nestled on leased land that has been tended by generations of Tranthams, and Savannah is keeping her family’s rich Appalachian legacy alive in her own unique way. As the non-profit continues to develop and grow to meet the needs of orphaned and injured wildlife in desperate need of its help, Savannah’s dream takes root and grows a little more each day into the inspiring reality it is fast becoming. With a volunteer workforce 129 strong, two full-time employees, four part-time staff (including myself!), and thousands of orphaned and injured wildlife released back into their native habitat, Appalachian Wildlife Refuge has grown beyond Savannah’s original vision into a living, breathing force to be reckoned with.

The Appalachian Wildlife Refuge is situated in the hills of Candler, North Carolina. Photo: Provided by Appalachian Wildlife Refuge

Savannah’s mother, Debbie Trantham, also an Appalachian native, was recently brought to tears when visiting the Appalachian Wildlife Refuge animal care facility and seeing the dedicated office space being constructed to house the organization’s much-needed administrative work. 

“To have a daughter who had this dream 10 years ago and to see this dream of hers truly come to life like this,” Debbie managed through tears, “it makes a mother proud.” 

Next week, we’re going to take a look at what we call Baby Season, when up to 30 orphaned wild babies can arrive at the Appalachian Wild animal care facility each day. And don’t worry, there’ll be plenty of photos, too!

I’ll see you back here next week!


If you encounter injured or orphaned wildlife in Western North Carolina, reach out to the Wildlife Emergency Hotline at or 828-633-6364, ext 1, leave a message, and a member of the hotline team will reach out right away! If you’d like to learn more about Appalachian Wildlife Refuge, our mission to save wildlife in need, and how you can help, visit
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