Celebrating the Newly-Rebuilt Marine Mammal Enclosures

by Heather Henderson, Stranding Coordinator

Ribbon Cutting, Jennifer Brent (left), Shannen Doherty and “Zuma Jay” Wagner, Photo by Harry Vamos

On January 11, 2018 honored guests, staff, volunteers, and our first California sea lion pup patient of the season all gathered to officially unveil the new and improved marine mammal rehabilitation enclosures.

We were fortunate to be joined by longtime CWC supporters, actress Shannen Doherty and Malibu City Councilmember Jefferson “Zuma Jay” Wagner. The entire project was made possible with funds from the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation. Mike Remski, Marine Mammal Program Manager, shared CWC’s rehabilitation and response history and details about why this rebuild had become a necessity.

2018’s first sea lion patient, Photo by Heather Henderson

Highlights of the new enclosures include additional drainage with sloping floors, a loading dock that provides access to the vehicles, and enhanced slip-proof entrance stairs. Finally, a redesign of the filtration system will enhance water quality during the busy season. The structure is built above ground, creating the perfect space for a seascape mural, donated and painted by former volunteer and friend of CWC, Ann Jin Chiu.

Throughout the presentation, the first sea lion pup of the season propped herself in the center enclosure, eyes closed and head held high. This body posture is generally displayed by sea lion patients as their health improves, suggesting that they are responding to care, and it is always wonderful to observe. While she was aware of the activity occurring in front of the enclosure, watching her behave in a natural manner is also a delightful sight, since our goal is to nurture these wild instincts. It was a great reminder of why the enclosure is so sorely needed.

Rabbit Rescued from Fire Returns to the Wild

by Heather Patrice Brown, Development Coordinator

Exam of the burnt tissue on the rabbit’s ears, Photo by Alyssa Schlange

Rabbit after surgery, Photo by Jamie Pelayo

This fall, when terrible wildfires ravaged the Southern California landscape, there came a spark of hope.  A video went viral of a young man rescuing a wild rabbit from the flames of the Thomas Fire. The rabbit was initially brought to a local animal hospital and was then transferred to California Wildlife Center for care on December 6th.

The rabbit had suffered serious burns to her ears and toes, minor burns to her lips and singed fur all over her body. She was given pain relief and a quiet place to recover from shock. At first, she was not very active. There were concerns that she might have internal injuries from the fire as well as the obvious burns.

Rabbit returns to wild, Photo by Heather Patrice Brown

After two days, she began to perk up and eat again. The burn areas on her feet began to scab over, which was a sign of healing, but the burned tissue on her ears began to die. Dr. Duane Tom surgically removed the dead tissue from her ears. The overall shape of her ears did not change, so her hearing was not impacted. Dr. Tom also removed some dead tissue from her outside toes and she was still able to hop and get around.

The rabbit continued to recover and was transferred to a larger enclosure at the house of home care volunteer, Julie Gluck, for rehabilitation. Her appetite and activity level continued to increase.  Her wounds healed well, and she was given a clean bill of health for release. On January 17th, she was released in Ventura. While she couldn’t be returned to her exact location because of the fire’s deforestation, she was released in a nearby area that had plenty of food, water and shelter. After a moment’s hesitation, the rabbit leapt out of the cage and quickly made her way to the cover of nearby bushes. The rabbit’s recovery from her horrible ordeal was a bright spot of hope amid the devastation of the fires.

Owl Rescued from Soccer Net

by Jennifer Brent, Executive Director

Owl in soccer net, Photo by Fernando Romero

The day after Christmas we received an urgent call from the folks over at Chaminade College Prep in West Hills. They had found a Great Horned Owl caught in their soccer net. Students started to cut him free but were concerned about handling the owl. We were able to send Heather Henderson from the Marine Mammal rescue team to try to rescue the trapped bird. Throughout the rescue, the owl was calm and relaxed, but once she was completely separated from the netting, she regained her normally wild demeanor.

Heather transferred her to our hospital for our vet to check for injuries.  The owl had suffered abrasions to a few toes on her left foot and perhaps a minor injury to her wing.  X-rays revealed no actual signs of breakage, and she was confined to cage rest for a few days because of the duration and extent of her entanglement in the netting.

Owl being examined by CWC staff, Photo by Jennifer Brent

We did a test flight with the owl in one of our fully enclosed outdoor flight pens, and she soared! Volunteer Corby Sandberg, who brought the Great Horned Owl back to West Hills for release, said, “It was an uplifting experience…carrying the box with the owl in it felt light as a feather. When I opened the box and tipped it on its side – after some long pauses and curious wide-eyed looks around, it didn’t walk out, it swooped out without even a running start!”

Thanks again to the alert and caring students at Chaminade and to our volunteers who are able to assist with returning these wild creatures back where they belong.

Leaving a Legacy for Wildlife

Richard Zamora, Photo courtesy of Rebecca Wierda

Leaving a Legacy for Wildlife

We recently received a bequest from well-respected attorney, Richard “Rick” Zamora (1964-2016). Rick split his time between El Paso, TX and Venice, CA and had a thriving practice in Texas. Rick passed away suddenly on November 29th but his legacy lives on. Through his bequest to California Wildlife Center, thousands of imperiled wildlife will receive the care they need for a second chance at life.


Rick supported the protection of many endangered species and once said “When we speak for animals – it makes it easier for others to do the same.” He rescued two domestic rabbits that the owner was going to release to the wild. Realizing they would not survive, this kind and caring man took in the two fortunate animals and gave them run of his house. He also helped rehabilitate another domestic rabbit with a broken back.

Rick was described by this family as being someone who stood up for the underdog and who felt a great deal of compassion for animals in need.

Consistent with his life, Rick wanted to his legacy to help animals. He even stipulated that the military gun collection he left his nephews never be used for hunting or to harm animals. His family described him as very deliberate and desiring the most impact for his dollar when helping animals.

We are grateful to Rick for his gift that will continue to help the animals in need at CWC.


Thank you to Rebecca Wierda for sharing her brother’s story with us.

Justice Served

By Denys Hemen, Hospital Manager

X-Ray of Hawk with Bullet

At CWC we have received 36 patients so far this year that have been shot by a pellet, BB, or shotgun. Last year we received 51. In all of these cases the perpetrator was never known and most of the patients had to be euthanized. The animals were found by caring members of the public, unable to fly or crawl away.  Most of these people had no idea that the animals had been shot and were very shocked to find out when they followed up with us over the phone. This can be a very frustrating situation for us and the public. We know there are multiple people in Los Angeles and the surrounding areas shooting wildlife, but we are helpless to address the situation without evidence. One day recently, that all changed.

A hawk was brought into our exam room unable to stand or fly. As we do with all our patients, CWC staff gathered important information from the rescuer. The rescuer told us how he found the hawk in his backyard and that he believed it was shot. He stated that he knew someone in his neighborhood that he had seen shooting birds. We quizzed him and made sure he had seen the gun in the person’s hand actively pointing at birds and firing.  X-rays confirmed that the bird had pellet fragments inside it’s body. Finally, that helpless feeling began to go away. We gave the rescuer the contact information for the proper authorities. Then we followed up with the same department. We gave the rescuer’s contact information to the officer and by the next day they had contacted them. An officer arrived at the scene later that week and questioned the perpetrator who immediately admitted to the shooting. Justice had been served. Not only for the hawk but also for the numerous other birds this person had illegally shot.

Shooting nongame migratory birds is a federal offense and a state offense in California with fines that can reach into the thousands of dollars. This story proves that we are not always helpless when trying to protect our wildlife from poachers. Sometimes it pays off to be persistent. If we have proof, then the law is on our side. Even though our California State Park and California Department of Fish and Game departments are underfunded and understaffed, there are eager individuals who are passionate about our wildlife and are willing to serve justice. If you ever witness a person shooting non-game wildlife or shooting any wildlife in the city limits, please call the CalTIP line at 888-334-CALTIP or visit the website at www.wildlife.ca.gov/enforcement/caltip.

The Malibu Community – Key in the Rescue of Marine Mammals

Sea Lion 17-1 in care

Sea Lion 17-1 is gaining weight in care and doing well.
Photo by Alyssa Schlange

By Heather Henderson, Stranding Coordinator

During this past fall and winter, between rescues calls for marine mammals, California Wildlife Center also worked to improve enclosure space.  Walls were built around one entire pen, to keep the pups warm during the cold spring evenings, when temperatures drop below freezing.  All the planning was well worth it, as just days after the upgrades were completed, the phone rang with reports of a California Sea Lion in need of assistance.  CWC opened the doors to marine mammal rehabilitation earlier than ever before – January 1st.

Sea Lion 17-12

Sea Lion 17-12 was hiding behind some fencing.
Photo courtesy of Kathleen Fanning Lojkovic

There are many challenges associated with performing rescues along the beautiful Malibu coastline.  The first patient of the year was wedged far into a cave in the rocky cliffs.  This location, compounded by the shorter winter days, could have proved unsuccessful had it not been for the caring people in Malibu.

Most rescues are prompted by reports from the public, after sighting an animal in need of supportive or veterinary care.  The simple act of calling our hotline [310 458 9453 (WILD)] is an essential part of the rehabilitation!  Residents and visitors to the Malibu area often go further.  They send photos, provide GPS pins and even remain on site (at a safe distance of 50+ feet) until our rescue team arrives.  They guide us to the animal and let other concerned individuals know that the Marine Mammal Rescue Team is on the way.  These extra steps can be essential to the rescue process, as distressed California Sea Lions will strive to find shelter and can easily blend in with the rocky coastline.  Even when possible to locate without additional information, the photos and enhanced stranding details allow our team to better assess and prepare while en route to the site.  Once there, a more efficient rescue can mean removal from a potentially stressful environment and the ability to provide care sooner.

17-1 in cave

Sea Lion 17-1 was hiding in a cave. CWC staff might never have found it had it not been for help from the community.
Photo by Mira Sorvino

California Wildlife Center’s marine mammal program owes much of its success to the commitment of the people of Malibu for helping us to preserve this one part of what makes Malibu so special.