NEW ORLEANS, La. (WVUE) - “Seymour” the pelican lives at a rehab facility outside Covington.
Like most Louisiana brown pelicans, Seymour-- as his keepers named him-- spent his early years on a barrier island until an injury last year nearly killed him.
"He had severe injuries to his right wing, which made him unable to fly to get his food,” said Margaret deLaureal, a licensed state rehabber.
Even today, the pelican would not survive out in the wild, nor would a host of others in an assorted collection of species, from a possum to owls, to a snake and rabbits.
A couple dozen different animals are cared for in this unlikely forever home on the campus of Christ Episcopal School, affectionately referred to here as “The Barn.”
“For some reason, they have an injury that prevents them from being released into the wild,” deLaureal said.
In some cases, the animals were simply unwanted pets.
“It’s really eye opening,” said student Grace Hall. “These animals are a lot like humans. They have behaviors, they have quirks, they have their own personalities," Hall said. "And before, when I didn’t know these animals, I never really thought like that. I thought they were just animals.”
Headmaster John Morvant arrived at the school about ten years ago when the program was already firmly established.
"I wasn’t really prepared for the barn when I walked on campus the first time,” Morvant joked.
The facility is part of the commitment to teaching at appreciation for nature at Chris Episcopal, where the environment is worked into the curriculum of second graders.
“We do it all," Morvant said, "and we think this is an important value for our students to learn and to live. It’s something that they can bring with them their entire lives.”
The Barn was not part of any master plan, but instead had its roots in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina when may animal rehabbers lost their facilities and turned to the school for help.
“There just weren’t any places for these baby animals to go in the springtime,” deLaureal said.
Today, Christ Episcopal is a licensed rehab facility for animals.
The school converted an existing building into the predator-proof barn, where the residents act as ambassador animals for their species.
“Everybody who saw these injured animals saw something in themselves,” deLaureal said.
Rehabilitation takes place during the summer months, when the school is naturally a quieter place.
However, care for the animals involves a 365 day per year commitment.
“We maintain it during the summer, during Christmas holidays, whenever we’re off," Morvant said. “There’s somebody who comes everyday to feed the animals, to clean up. So, it is a rather expensive proposition.”
Morvant points out the facility is not a zoo, but “an interactive place. It’s also a sanctuary for others. We like to think of it as a sanctuary for people too.”
For the students, it’s a chance to get off the grid, away from the pressures of classrooms and grades.
“I like how it’s just a place to get away from everyone and everything,” said student Andrew Danenhower.
“This is the age of social media, where things just go fast, fast, fast," deLaureal said. "But this is a place to go slow, slow, slow.”
Unfortunately it does not come cheap, cheap, cheap.
Grants help offset the cost, but Morvant concedes from time to time the school only briefly considers the economics of operating “The Barn.”
“I found out pretty early I would not want to be the headmaster that closes the barn,” which Morvant said remains hugely popular with parents and students.