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.

Orphan Care Unit 2017 Wrap Up

By Jennifer Guess, Senior Wildlife Technician

Eastern Fox Squirrel
By Anne Slattery

November marks the end of baby season at California Wildlife Center (CWC).  It was another year full of energetic squirrels, curious crows, grumpy mockingbirds, and aggressive woodpeckers.  This year we had quite a busy season.  CWC took in over 275 Eastern Fox Squirrels and over 85 Virginia Opossums between the spring and fall months.  Throughout the height of summer we saw over 200 American Crows, Common Ravens and Western Scrub-jays, over 300 Mourning Doves and Band-tailed Pigeons, and 135 Northern Mockingbirds.  We also had a few unique patients come through our doors.  Many volunteers working in our Orphan Care Unit have fond memories of feeding our one and only Pacific-slope Flycatcher or a few of our Western Bluebirds.  Even more volunteers will remember building up the courage to feed our lively Acorn Woodpeckers.

Nestling Northern Mockingbirds
By Alyssa Schlange

We’d like to thank all our fantastic Orphan Care volunteers for their tireless work and dedication in helping us feed and care for the almost 1,500 young patients that came through our doors for this season.  We’d also like to thank our wonderful transport team who helped bring almost 300 young patients from shelters across the Los Angeles area.  We are so fortunate to have an amazing group of people committed to helping injured, sick and orphaned wildlife.

I’m sure we are all looking forward to taking a deep breath and relaxing a little during the relatively calm winter months.  But, don’t get too comfortable; spring will be here before you know it!

Garbage Impacts All Kinds of Animals

By Heather Patrice Brown, Development Coordinator

Photo By Jaana Shellock
This poor skunk had a plastic cup in his head that CWC staff was able to remove.

In April, California Wildlife Center was surprised to receive a skunk with a plastic cup stuck over his head.  Volunteer Jaana Shellock first noticed the skunk and with guidance from CWC staff, was able to capture it.  CWC supporter Rick Gunderson was kind enough to drive it to CWC for treatment.  Dr. Duane Tom, California Wildlife Center’s Director of Animal Care, restrained the skunk and cut the cup off his head.  Luckily, the cup had not caused any additional injuries, and the skunk was able to be released to where it had been found that same day.

This skunk was very lucky someone noticed him and was able to bring him to CWC for help.  Unfortunately, CWC staff routinely sees wildlife that have been injured or impacted by garbage.  While most of these animals are tend to be marine mammals, land animals are affected too.  Animals investigate food trash and get entangled in or ingest the paper or plastic.  It is important to be conscientious about how garbage is disposed of and make sure trash cans are securely closed so that we can peacefully coexist with our wild neighbors.


Opossums: More Friend Than Foe

By Anna Noble, Administrative Assistant

Virginia Opossum

Young Virginia Opossum
Photo by Kim Barker

California Wildlife Center admits an average of 250 opossums yearly.  Of this number, 40-50 are adults, while the remainder are orphans.  Most adult opossums who are admitted have experienced bodily injury due to trapping, predation, gun shots, or encounters with vehicles on roadways.  Joeys (the word for baby opossums) that are seven inches or longer should be left if found alone unless they show obvious sign of injury.  Smaller joeys should come to CWC for treatment.

While the opossum is sometimes perceived as a “nuisance” animal, they serve a pivotal role in the ecosystem.  Opossums act as nature’s double-duty pest control and sanitation.  They eat mice, rats, snakes, worms, slugs and insects, rotting fruits and vegetables, and even garbage.  As they have an unusually high need for calcium, they often eat the skeletons of rodents and road kill for a boost.

Opossums are incorrectly perceived as unclean and disease-ridden animals.  In fact, they bathe and groom themselves nearly as often as house cats.  They also have very powerful immune systems which fend off many diseases.  Opossums almost never have rabies, as their low body temperature makes it difficult for the virus to survive.  They are even immune to the venoms of snakes, scorpions and bees, as well as to ricin and botulinum toxin!  Despite having some similar physical traits, opossums are not related to rodents and are actually the only marsupial found in North America.

Despite their tendency to appear vicious when showing their fifty teeth, opossums are rarely looking for trouble.  They are very docile animals, and when threatened their first instinct is to simply run away.  If danger persists, they will show their teeth and make a hissing sound.  And when neither of these options prevail, they fall into a comatose state in which their bodies temporarily freeze, causing them to appear lifeless.  This defense mechanism is known as “playing possum.”

Coyotes Released

By Staff Veterinarian Dr. Lorraine Barbosa

Coyotes peer out of their transport crate while on their way to their release location. Photo by Aileen Martinez

Coyotes peer out of their transport crate while on their way to their release location. Photo by Aileen Martinez

This year, California Wildlife Center took in seven orphaned coyote pups, which came to us from various locations in Topanga, Los Angeles, and Hollywood, at only a few months old. After treating them for a GI parasites, giving them their vaccinations, and providing them with nutrition and supportive care, they spent several months rehabilitating in our outdoor coyote enclosure with minimal human contact. Our goal is for them to form a pack so that when they are released, they will be able to find a defend a territory together.

In the wild, coyotes are born into a pack led by a monogamous male-female pair.  Some youngsters will stay with their own packs while others will leave either to live on their own or in pairs, or to join another pack.  Coyotes defend their territories together but rarely hunt together unless they need to bring down large prey. The size of their territory is dependent on the on the size of the pack and the food sources available. Coyotes often use natural and man-made structures as territory boundaries, which is why you may see lone coyotes walking along roadsides – they are keeping to the edge of a pack’s territory.

When releasing our coyotes, we try to find a location that has the natural resources they’ll need to survive, including free space, prey, and a water source.  Without much human interaction over the past several months, these animals had grown very skittish of our presence, therefore, catching them up for transportation to their release location was a difficult task.

Peering in through the small opening of one enclosure, I could see only a jumble of ears, paws and noses protruding from a dense furred pile, each coyote looking away from me as if thinking, “if I can’t see you, you can’t see me.” With my Kevlar gloves on and a towel under my arm, I squatted down and began to crawl in, slowly and quietly, one small step at a time.  I knew that if I could cover their faces, they would calm and I would be able to work with them more easily.  While one coyote leaped repeatedly at a corner of the enclosure, another squeezed past me through the small enclosure door. I managed to cover two of the remaining coyotes with towels, keeping them quieted while Dr. Tom gathered the one that managed to sneak through, and then I wrestled with the coyote leaping at the enclosure corner.  Once all were covered and stilled, moving them the several feet from the enclosure into their kennels was a whole other task. It seemed simple enough, but coyotes have an unparalleled ability to enhance normal gravitational forces, pressing themselves so hard into the ground that one would think they weighed ten times what they do. It took all of my strength to move a 26-pound coyote one foot forward at a time toward and then into the kennel. One by one, with a great deal of coordination, composure and effort, we were eventually able to get all seven coyotes into their kennels, injury-free. We drove the short distance to our release site, walked the kennels down the trail a ways, then opened the doors and watched them run off up and over the hill and out of sight.


A Squirrel for All Seasons

Spring and fall are busiest times for baby squirrels
Eastern fox squirrels are one of the most common species of animals admitted to California Wildlife Center. CWC's Baby Care Unit also cares for large numbers of orphaned song-birds, opossums, hummingbirds, and crows.

Eastern fox squirrels are one of the most common species of animals admitted to California Wildlife Center. CWC’s Baby Care Unit also cares for large numbers of orphaned song-birds, opossums, hummingbirds, and crows.

By Executive Director Jennifer Brent

Last year, California Wildlife Center received 486 Eastern Fox Squirrels and so far this year, we have received 414.  They are the species that we see the most at CWC (second most common is the Mallard).

Why so many?  Some have had negative contacts with people – shot by a BB gun, struck by a vehicle or caught by a pet.  However, the vast majority we receive are babies (called kittens) and have fallen from trees of have otherwise been separated from their mothers. This may occur if a tree is trimmed during squirrel nesting season (February-April and August-October) or if the baby falls from a nest and it’s too dangerous for the mother to go down and retrieve him.

When baby squirrels are found on the ground, they should be observed from afar (as long as they are not in direct danger) to make sure that the mother picks him up.  If, after 3 hours, there are no signs of a mother coming, the squirrel can be picked up and put into a dark, quiet box with a small towel or blanket for warmth and brought to CWC.

Baby squirrels are fed a warmed species appropriate formula that mimics mother’s milk.  When very young, they are fed four times a day. Once they are old enough to be fed just three times a day, they are put together into social groups of four to seven squirrels who will act as surrogate siblings and eventually be released together.  A diet of nuts, berries and vegetables are introduced and, over time, this combination completely replaces the milk formula.  As with all rodents, squirrel’s front teeth grow continually so at CWC, they are given appropriate material such as pine cones and branches to keep them healthy.

Eventually the squirrels are self-feeding and are transferred from CWC’s Baby Care Unit to outdoor enclosures.  These allow them to move more freely and decreases any habituation that the squirrels developed while constantly being around people in the Baby Care Unit.  After about a month in the outdoor enclosures, they are released in their same social unit back into the wilderness. The average length of stay for a baby squirrel is three months at CWC.