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Friday's raptor celebration marks successful season for Wildlife Rescue

Los Altos Town Crier - October 12, 2005
By Eliza Ridgeway

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This Friday volunteers and animal lovers will gather at Fogarty Winery for Wildlife Rescue Inc.'s Annual Raptor Release, a yearly fund-raiser and celebration for the non-profit group that tends to area wildlife. A red-shouldered hawk, a kestrel, a great horned owl and a gopher snake will be the stars of the show.

For the last 30 years the group has rehabilitated injured and orphaned wildlife from the cities of Los Altos, Los Altos Hills, Mountain View and Palo Alto. Last year, it received 2,130 animals, ranging from herons to squirrels to opossums.

At the shelter this past week, 41 orphaned squirrels were nearly old enough to head back to their trees. They are probably the last of this year's orphans.

"There's lots of acorns on the ground this year, so it's a late season," Animal Care Coordinator Jennifer MacLean said as she wrangled a 10-week-old squirrel out of a cage. The squirrel grabbed onto the nipple of a syringe she held and sucked away at the formula enthusiastically, tail aquiver.

MacLean said that most people who bring injured wildlife to the center don't view the animals as problem pests. "We consider what's humane for the animal, looking at it as an individual case," MacLean said.

Not just children are moved by the sight of a bird or critter in distress. "Lots of adults come in here very upset that an animal may be suffering," MacLean said. "Their first thought is, 'I want to help it.' It's compassion that drives these people, and this organization."

Educational birds - raptors that wouldn't survive in the wild because of injury - visit local schools and community groups with a wildlife educator. "One of the missions of Wildlife Rescue is to educate on how to achieve a balance between us and the wildlife in our environment," said Lauren Hasenhuttl, a board member for the group. "These are not exotics - they live in our own backyard."

Many of the animals brought in were injured or orphaned because of human interference. The baby squirrels crowding the cages at the shelter came from nests knocked down by tree trimmers or other human disturbance.

At the height of the season, Wildlife Rescue houses 150 animals.

The non-profit works with other area groups and scientists to provide creative, educated care.

"Shore birds and water birds will adopt (chicks). We call biologists in the area to ask about active nests or families," Hasenhuttl said.

Squirrels receive a gradual, soft release from outdoor pens, returning at night for the first few days for a safe place to sleep.

"After a few days they stop coming back," MacLean said.

Like all the other wildlife the group takes in, squirrels aren't ever treated as pets. "Squirrels can scratch and bite as adults. We have to euthanize them if they get too habituated to people," MacLean said. "Possums appear threatening, but I think squirrels are a lot scarier - they bite!"

The last orphaned animals are heading back outdoors this month, but more volunteers will be needed by February or March, for the next birth season.

About 15,000 volunteer hours augment the non-profit's budget every year. Volunteers come to feed the animals in daily shifts, or care for them at home.

Donations of supplies and money are needed year round. Last August, the City of Mountain View cut the $16,000 of annual funding it provided Wildlife Rescue, and the City of Palo Alto halved its $40,000 contribution.

While the city of Los Altos Hills renewed its yearly funding of $3,000 for the program, the city of Los Altos declined to provide funding for the program.

Last year, Los Altos sent 284 animals to Wildlife Rescue. Los Altos residents volunteer with the group, including Amy Ball, acting president of the group, and Karen Hoyt, a 20-year veteran of the program. Another well-known Los Altos resident from the non-profit is Socrates, an educational great horned owl rescued as a baby.

A poisoned rat from the golf course Socrates nested in killed his siblings and left him blind and unable to fly.

"We take him to schools to teach children about the food chain, and what happens if you poison the food supply - that it can reach raptors," Hasenhuttl said. Socrates lives with Hoyt and acts as a surrogate parent for orphaned owls brought in every year.

The dramatic release of a golden eagle, rehabilitated after suffering a broken leg, put Wildlife Rescue in the news last August. But most of the work the non-profit does occurs behind closed doors.

"We are different from a lot of other non-profits - people can enjoy parks or attend museums," Ball said. "It's hard for them to understand what we do. But part of why we enjoy parks is because of the animals to see there, and the birds to watch."

The decrease in funding this year won't close down the organization, but it will limit the number of injured or orphaned animals that can be rehabilitated rather than euthanized.

"There's a real need for a facility to care for wild animals in our area because we're lucky - we have a lot of them!" Ball said.

For more information about the Raptor Release fund-raiser or to donate, call 494-SAVE or email [email protected]. Wildlife Rescue is located at 4000 Middlefield Road in Palo Alto.


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