[This story appears as an on-going series in the "Gilroy Dispatch"]
Who You Gonna Call? June, 2013 By Amy Yee
Those of us who are old enough to remember the "Ghostbusters" film from 1984 recall this catchy refrain. Who are you going to call for help when your house is haunted? Ghostbusters! The phrase can aptly be applied to wildlife rehabilitation centers as well. Who are you going to call when a mother hummingbird is killed and the featherless babies are peeping for food in their nest on your porch? When your cat brings home a beat-up but still alive baby Screech owl? When you find a Red-tailed hawk entangled in barbed wire along a road? When tree-trimmers are cutting down a palm tree in which baby Barn owls are nesting, in front of your house? When your weed whacker accidentally whacks a gopher snake?
In fact, who does the County Parks ranger call when a Golden Eagle is found, injured and on the ground, in a county park?
Who you gonna call? A wildlife rehabilitation center, of course.
In the South County, Morgan Hill's Wildlife Education and Rehabilitation Center (WERC) is the "go to" place for such emergencies. The above examples are all cases we have seen in the past year or two. There are hundreds more.
In California, as in most of the United States, the public service of wildlife rehabilitation is done by primarily volunteer, nonprofit organizations. In past years, before the current financial crises, some wildlife rehabilitation centers received funds from local governments to provide these services. Sadly, those days are long gone.
These are tough times for wildlife rehabilitators. As public funds dried up, some private donors also experienced difficulties and were forced to cut back on their support. A wildlife center in San Benito County recently learned that the land on which it was located, which had been donated by a local company for that purpose, was being sold. That center is now closed while it searches for a new location. In the meantime, WERC is caring for animals that would normally have been cared for in Hollister. In addition, the financial crises have required our terrific volunteer veterinarians to limit the services that can be donated, such as x-rays, lab tests, blood work and medication. The cost of animal food is many thousands of dollars each year.
As wildlife centers have come under increasing financial pressure, a certain amount of "patient dumping" has also occurred. Some centers have been forced to transfer their high-maintenance patients those more expensive and time consuming to care for - to comparatively more well-funded centers, thus putting an extra burden on those facilities. It seems ironic that in the United States, where national, state and county parks abound and a multitude of laws protect our wild animals, caring for those animals is not done by the government but by independent, nonprofit organizations. In contrast, in some European countries wildlife rehabilitation is a function of the national government, and rehabilitators are public employees.
Wildlife rehabilitation is messy, dirty, and sometimes dangerous work. Extensive training in animal handling is required so that volunteers don't get taloned by a raptor, poked in the eye by a heron's beak or bitten by a raccoon. Wildlife rehabilitation is a labor of love. Wildlife center administrators and animal care supervisors often make less than minimum wage, and frequently donate part of their income to helping the creatures they care for.
While funds and the availability of donated services, food and space have decreased, the need for wildlife rehabilitation services is more crucial than ever. As the South County area rapidly grows, wild animals are forced into closer contact with humans, often with tragic results for the animal. For instance, many of WERC's patients are victims of collisions with vehicles.
So, who you gonna call when your sobbing five year old brings home an injured baby rabbit and begs you to save it? Hopefully, there is a wildlife rehabilitation center nearby to nurse it back to health.
Amy Randall Yee has lived in Santa Clara County for 35 years and has volunteered at WERC for six years. She is the President of the Board of Directors of WERC. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
W.E.R.C., the Wildlife Education and Rehabilitation Center provides the community with rehabilitation services for orphaned, injured and sick native wildlife. Through our educational programs, W.E.R.C. encourages a peaceful coexistence between civilization and our native wildlife. Federal tax ID #77-0324296