Getting them back to the wild
What most visitors see on an outing at the California Living Museum (CALM) in Bakersfield are different species of native California animals, well adjusted in their surroundings. What is not on display to visitors is the relatively new Wildlife Clinic and Rehabilitation Center where daily battles take place to save animal lives so they can be returned to the wild. Thanks to a state grant, large contributions from an anonymous donor, the Wheeler Foundation, Ann Proctor, plus many other smaller contributors, the twin facilities were added to the CALM landscape about a year-and-a-half ago.
More than 400 animals brought to CALM by local citizens and public agencies were rehabbed this past year. The facilities handle every thing from nursing abandoned baby animals to examining, feeding and caring for birds and beasts with broken body parts. Even an unlucky barn owl found soaked in oil is getting a second chance at CALM.
There is enough space and appropriate equipment in the two buildings to accommodate the sick and injured, while providing a facility where visiting veterinarians can perform much-needed repairs to limbs and organs. Rehab falls under the watchful eye of CALM’s Curator, Don Richardson, assisted by Animal Keeper Sharon Boyles.
How intense is the work they do? In a 10-minute stretch, concerned citizens dropped off an abandoned, baby starling and a bobcat cub. Boyles examined each for broken bones or wounds, signs of internal injuries or illness, weighed both and cared for their individual needs. Labored breathing by the starling worried her.
“It could be from the stress of being handled and transported, or it could indicate
internal damage,” Boyles said. “We have to get its body temperature up and can’t feed it until that is done.”
After inspection, the bobcat was given a relatively clean bill of health and sent to another animal facility for release back into the wild. Walking through the facility, you see animals that have not been as lucky. Boyles shows concern for a young, black crown night heron with a dislocated leg that may not be releasable. The same fate may be true for a great horned owl that has lost sight in one eye after being hit by a car. Both may become permanent residents at CALM.
An opossum, whose jaw was split in half by a motorist, was wired back together and may have a ticket out in the very near future. There are the puzzling cases, such as a red-shouldered hawk that was found abandoned, unable to eat or stand. The CALM crew has nursed it back to good health, and it, too, may fly the coop in a few weeks’ time.
How does CALM decide if animals can be released? “They must be able to avoid predators, and be able to get their own food,” Boyles said. “Animals need all their limbs. Broken wings or legs would probably prevent them from surviving on their own. Our rehabbing goal is to get them back into the wild. Only when animals cannot be released, do we keep them here or see that they are protected in another facility.”
Couple of things CALM would like you to know. Rehabbing animals is expensive, and it counts on private donations to make it possible. Local citizens should not keep wild animals. Turn them into a facility, such as CALM, where they can be properly fed and cared for. If a baby bird falls out of its nest, the parents will not reject it, if you put it back.