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Theresa Barbo, New Cape Wildlife Center Director


The Humane Society of the United States / The Fund for Animals

  • Theresa Barbo, Director, Cape Wildlife Center

Theresa Barbo was named director of the Cape Wildlife Center in Barnstable, Mass., in July. She talked with us recently about her new job, her longtime activity on the Cape, and the wealth of knowledge and experience she brings to the center.

Barbo is the author of six books and is a noted public lecturer in maritime and cultural history. Her background is in journalism, non-profit programming and development, and environmental conservation.

She holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth and has studied executive leadership at the Mendoza College of Business at the University of Notre Dame.

Long active in the Cape Cod community and civic circles, Barbo is the founding director of the annual Cape Cod Maritime History Symposium at the Cape Cod Museum of Natural History — now in its 15th year — and is a commissioner on the Cape and Islands Commission on the Status of Women. Barbo and her husband, Daniel, live in Yarmouth Port, with their daughter, Katherine, and son, Thomas.

The Cape Wildlife Center, in Barnstable, Mass, provides year-round care for 135 species of wildlife – from songbirds, waterfowl, and raptors, to raccoons, foxes and coyotes.

The center is operated by The Humane Society of the United States in partnership with The Fund for Animals. Its key missions are wildlife care, wildlife advocacy and wildlife conflict resolution.

Q: How did you get interested in maritime history?

My interest in maritime history coincided with my need to find a master’s thesis topic.  This was in the early 1990’s.   A friend at the Historical Society of Old Yarmouth in the town where I lived suggested I compose a project on a local 19th century sea captain, and that started the ball rolling.

My latest work is The Pendleton Disaster Off Cape Cod: The Greatest Small Boat Rescue in Coast Guard History, coming out in Third Edition in September. The foreword was written by the most immediate Commandant, Adm. Thad Allen (Ret.) and co-authored by Capt. W. Russell Webster, (Ret.), who’s now the federal preparedness coordinator for FEMA in New England.

Q: You’ve written about “Yankee ingenuity.” Can you tell me briefly a story from your writings that shows that ingenuity?

Ingenuity in this context would focus on survival skills of generations of Cape Codders. Existing on Cape Cod meant living in a rural environment, away from “up town” Boston, the center of Northeast commerce. Communities forged an independent spirit that has lasted for generations: farming, cultural heritage, and independent banking systems, for example. 

Q: What lessons, environmentally speaking, do you think the history of your region has for us?

My books—Cape Cod Bay: A History of Salt & Sea, and Nantucket Sound: A Maritime History—focus on the salt water systems that embrace Cape Cod. They address maritime and cultural histories of these ecosystems and some of the present contemporary challenges each body of water faces.

From a historical perspective and context, land issues also are discussed, mostly because there’s not much of it, and all of which is surrounded by water!  On land, Cape Cod, the extended arm of Massachusetts, is essentially one large watershed with only a sole source aquifer. 

The demand on this fragile environment is tremendous, and anything which is a concern on land has a trickle-down effect on wildlife. Nutrient loading along the shores is a common problem because Cape Cod has septic systems and not mainstream sewers. 

In Cape Cod Bay alone, more than 80 nonpoint source pollution outlets pour into the bay. The currents in Cape Cod Bay run counter-clockwise. And because of the enclosed position of the bay, the tidal flush is not as great as in Nantucket Sound, so environmental concerns tend to be rightly amplified.

Q: Tell me about some of the residents you have at Cape Wildlife Center now.

Well, let’s see. I make a point of looking into each of the cages every morning. It’s amazing. To name just a few, we’ve got an injured red-tailed hawk and a crow here that, for some reason, someone cut off all its flight feathers. And we have 15 newborn opossums.

Q: You’ve lived on Cape Cod and volunteered a bit to help Cape Wildlife Center over the years. What’s it like becoming director?

First off, I am profoundly grateful to have this opportunity to put together all my skills—communication, writing, and community involvement—to raise the profile of the center. There’s a lot of good energy here. The staff is amazing. All you have to do is look into the face of a northeastern endangered cottontail rabbit or a beautiful red-tailed hawk and think, "I might be able to help them, to do something to help them survive. Not only survive, but sustain their numbers" to know this is amazing work.

Q: What do you hope to accomplish for the Center?

My goals: How can we better serve Cape Cod? How can we be a better partner to organizations and individuals committed to the care and conservation of wildlife? I am interested in possibly launching some new ecosystem studies into the unique environments that directly affect wildlife here. Cape Cod is a big watershed.

One thing we’re in the midst of right now at the center is renovating a former two-story, six-car garage into a brand new animal ward. That will make be fantastic when it is finished in the fall.

Q: Do you have any pets?

All the animals in my house are rescues. Unfortunately, we just lost one of our dogs, a 14-year old Labrador. We have another Labrador, Angus, and a rabbit and two cats.

Q: What do you like to do on your off time?

I love to sea kayak. I just go and lose myself in the marshes of Nantucket Sound and Cape Cod Bay.


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