Back in March, I started volunteering at the Sonoma County Wildlife Rescue, a center in Petaluma that rehabilitates native wildlife. What I’m doing right now with the organization is feeding the animals that live at the center (some permanent; some temporary).
I finally got around to taking some photos of the animals I work with, and thought that was a good excuse to write up a big entry about my experiences so far. Even if you’ve seen the photos on Facebook, you might want to read this – there’s loads more information about what I actually do at the center. Like feeding mountain lions, and getting kisses from a coyote. 🙂
Right now, I’m helping out by feeding and otherwise caring for the animals at the center one day a week. This involves preparing all their food (some combination of fruits, vegetables, nuts, mice and rats in most cases, although the mountain lions eat only meat). After we put together a food dish for each animal, we go around to the individual enclosures, put out the food, refill the water, and generally tidy up the place.
There are two categories of animals at the center: “education” animals which are here permanently, because they can’t be released into the wild for a variety of reasons; and animals which are being rehabilitated for release back into the wild. They’re kept in two discrete parts of the property, and the animals that are going to be released back into the wild are treated very differently than the permanent residents. We don’t want future releasees to become too comfortable with humans, so we avoid talking to them, and try and spend as little time with them as possible. Just get in with the food, tidy up, and get back out again. It’s different with the permanent residents. We can interact with them as much as we like – it’s good for them, really. We call it “enrichment” – anything that makes their lives in captivity more interesting, and less stressful. All the animals in these photos are education animals.
This is Betsy, a red fox. She is living here because she’s a non-native species, and can’t be released back into the wild, because in general, red foxes are in competition with the native fox populations (grey foxes – I’ll try and get photos of our resident grey fox, Mason, next time I bring my camera).
These photos were taken from inside the enclosure. The foxes are calm enough that we can easily go into their enclosure and feed them without having to lock them up first. One of the ways we provide enrichment for these animals is by hiding their food. Every day they get several dead mice; part of my job is to hide them in various places so the foxes have to find them, instead of just having them set out in the open, which would be far less interesting. 😀
Here’s my personal favorite (but shhhh – don’t tell any of the others) – Wily the Coyote. He’s here because someone tried to raise him as a pet, so he was too tame to be released back into the wild (but not tame enough to be an appropriate pet. One of the themes of wildlife rehabilitation is that these animals are almost always in need of help because of something stupid or careless done by humans).
Wily is such a love. When we come to feed him, he runs up to the edge of his enclosure so I can give him some scratches and loves. Sometimes he gives me kisses – he licked me all over my face yesterday. 😀
Here’s my sweetie-faced boy:
An interesting factoid about the coyotes (there are two; there’s a female named Cleo living in the same enclosure, but she’s too skittish to come and be pet) – they actually earn part of their own keep. When we feed the animals, we also go through and clean up after them – including their scat. Everyone else’s poop goes into the trash, but the coyote scat gets bagged up and sold. Why, you may ask, would anyone want to buy coyote scat? (I sure wouldn’t. It’s kinda stinky. :D). It’s used as a wild animal repellent, though – the scent keeps deer and other critters away. 🙂
Here’s Wily, looking wild:
Missy, the grey squirrel – so fat that she’s on a special diet. One of the dangers of captivity.
Rocky and Bandit, the two resident raccoons. They have to be locked in their den box before we go in the enclosure to hide their food, or else they’d climb up our legs in excitement:
We do enrichment for them much as we do for the foxes and coyotes, except they have an elaborate way for us to hide their food. They have a wooden “puzzle” box . . . basically a wooden box with six compartments, each compartment with a little door and some sort of latch (think of various gate closures, and you’ll have the right idea). We put snails and grapes (their favorite foods) in the compartments, and then close the latches. It takes them a while, but they’re able to open all the various latches. Which makes it easy to understand why it’s so difficult to keep them out of trash cans. They’re smart and dextrous. 😀
Here are our newest residents, and probably the most famous. Or at least the ones that most people come to the center to see. Kyla and Kuma are mountain lion “cubs,” brother and sister. They lost their mother to a poacher (I hope he/they go(es) to jail; I think the case is still being litigated, so I don’t know all the details). Kuma also lost one of his front paws (which necessitated the amputation of his entire leg). They ended up in the hands of the Fish and Game department, but state law doesn’t allow mountain lions to be rehabilitated and re-released the way we do with most other native wildlife. Fortunately, the center had enough property – and the ability to raise enough money to build an enclosure for them – that we’re allowed to house them as part of our educational animal collection. About a week ago they were moved into their new permanent home, which is lovely, with a stream and pond, and trees and platforms, plus a big den box. (I’ll try and get pictures of that sometime soon, too). They’re not full-grown yet, but are definitely not babies anymore. I think of them as teenagers. That’s Kyla on the left, and Kuma, hissing at me on the right.
And yes, I get to feed these guys, too. Which involves going into their enclosure. (Not while they’re loose in it, though. At least not usually). I had my first opportunity to do this on the very first day I was being trained to feed the animals. It was rather exciting. They were locked inside their den box, which, in the old enclosure, didn’t have wooden walls, but chain link fencing. So, I took their food (horsemeat, just like zoos feed to their carnivores, and a rabbit) and laid it out for them. They were about six feet away from me while I was doing this, and they weren’t entirely happy about me being in their home. Even knowing they were locked in, it was a bit nerve-wracking, having two large predators hissing at me at such close range, with just chain link fencing between us. They didn’t seem teenage at all just then. 😀
I intend to get more pictures of the wonderful animals I work with at the center. LIke the pair of young grey foxes we’re caring for right now who are SO INCREDIBLY ADORABLE (and feisty. They growl like crazy whenever we come near). We also have, at various times, opossums, skunks, hawks, owls, squirrels, bats, and even river otters, among others. So, expect more entries soon. I really love the work I’m doing with the wildlife rescue.
If you’re in the Bay Area and would like to meet some of these wonderful animals for yourself, the center is having it’s annual open house, Wild Fest, 09, on Saturday, May 16th. If you haven’t already seen the event on Facebook, and are interested in coming, let me know and I can get details and directions to you right away.