How Old Mascara Wands Can Help Wildlife

You'll give plastic a second life and help tiny critters.

opossum with mascara wand
An opossum gets cleaned with the help of a used mascara wand.

 Appalachian Wildlife Rescue

When injured and orphaned animals are found by wildlife rehabbers, they often need baths and can be covered in all sorts of unwanted pests. Opossums, squirrels, rabbits, and owls all come into wildlife sanctuaries needing lots of care. It can be painstaking to pick fly eggs and larva out of the coats of tiny animals as they're being bathed.

One refuge in North Carolina found an innovative way to use discarded mascara wands to clean the coats of these rescued animals. The wands make quick work of the task plus it repurposes an item that would normally just get tossed in the trash.

Wands for Wildlife

Appalachian Wildlife Refuge, a nonprofit wildlife sanctuary in North Carolina, began asking people to donate used mascara wands so they can be used to help care for animals.

"Wands for Wildlife" took off in 2017 when wildlife rehabilitator and the refuge's co-founder Savannah Trantham posted on her Facebook page asking for used wands.

"Did you know something as simple as an old mascara wand can help wildlife?!? We use mascara brushes to help remove fly eggs and larva from the fur of animals. They work great because the bristles are so close together!!" she wrote.

"Do you have old mascara just lying around in a drawer? Know a makeup artist? Clean off those old wands in hot soapy water and we can put them to good use!" 

The post was shared tens of thousands of times and since then, the refuge has received hundreds of thousands of wands from every state in the U.S. and from places around the world, including Australia, Canada, France, Ireland, Italy, and Spain.

An Eastern box turtle is cleaned with a mascara wand.
An Eastern box turtle is cleaned with a mascara wand. Appalachian Wildlife Refuge

The wands are used to remove fly eggs and larva from the fur and feathers of animals. They can be used to help groom animals to remove things like dust, dirt, sand, and sawdust. They can help a wildlife rehabilitator examine an animal for injuries. They're used with birds and bunnies, opossums, and box turtles. The wands also can be used to clean the syringes that are used to feed the animals.

Here's a look at a tiny opossum being groomed with a tiny brush.

The bristles are soft and so close together, so they reduce the risk of injury to the tiny patients, especially babies that might tend to squirm when being handled.

How to help

mascara wands
The refuge has collected wands from every state and from many other countries.  Appalachian Wildlife Rescue

If you'd like to donate, clean old mascara wands in warm, soapy water, then mail them to:

Wands for Wildlife
P.O. Box 1211
Skyland, North Carolina 28776

Attach the form found here and be sure to check postage as some packages have arrived postage due.

If you don't have mascara wands, the refuge asks that you don't buy news ones. Instead you can help in other ways by collecting them from family and friends, by contributing to the refuge's wish list, or by making a financial donation.

Holding Wandraisers and Sharing Wands

The makeup department from NBC's 'The Blacklist' donated wands.
The makeup department from NBC's 'The Blacklist' donated wands. Appalachian Wildlife Refuge

The refuge has received wands from individuals, as well as community groups, schools, salons, scout troops, and others that have held "wandraisers." They've received wands from the makeup department of NBC's show "The Blacklist," as well as boxes of discontinued wands from makeup manufacturers.

They're packaging wands with educational materials on how to use them and sharing them with other facilities and home-based wildlife rehabilitators.

"The response to a simple request for mascara wands has been astounding," co-founder Kimberly Brewster tells Treehugger. "I honestly have trouble wearing mascara now — the outpouring of compassion brings tears to my eyes almost daily as I read messages, notes and comments from people all over the world who care about animals, the environment and just want to help. The world is full of good people wanting to do some good!"

The response has been so great that the program evolved into a separate nonprofit in August 2020.

“This program helped to support our newly renovated wildlife care facility from the beginning as well as bring attention and awareness to wildlife and wildlife rehabilitation all over the world," says Trantham in a news release. "We have been able to connect with people that may have not ever had a reason to get involved with wildlife and now they are helping make a difference.”