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The Healing Ground, Page 2: A Refuge for Predator Species

Sick, injured, and orphaned wildlife recover at The Fund for Animals Wildlife Center

All Animals magazine September/October 2012

  • Vet tech Gina Taylor examines a red-tailed hawk.  Kathy Milani/The HSUS

by Michael Sharp

Located some 35 miles northeast of San Diego, the Wildlife Center was once the site of a dog breeding kennel during the 1920s. Brick kennels and wire doors are still visible inside the one-story building now used to prepare food, as are the outdoor concrete dog runs, converted into a washing station for bowls, cages, and carriers.

The site eventually became a boarding kennel, then a traditional dog-and-cat shelter, before playing a pivotal role in the rescue of hundreds of goats off California’s San Clemente Island in the 1980s. Subjected to a culling program by the U.S. Navy, the goats became another project of legendary animal advocate Cleveland Amory, who several years earlier had worked to save similarly fated burros from the Grand Canyon, opening The Fund for Animals Black Beauty Ranch in east Texas to house them and myriad other species.

“The lady who operated the shelter here in Ramona got in contact with Amory somehow and said that she had all of this pasture land around her dog shelter, and she’d be more than happy to accommodate some of the goats,” Crumpacker says. “So, three years and 600 goats later, she donated the property, with the agreement that the remaining dogs and cats would finish being adopted out.”

Today, the 13-acre facility is home to 22 permanent residents—16 bobcats, three mountain lions, one coyote, one African lion, and a pygmy hippo named Hannah—plus 39 cats rescued off San Nicolas Island and a revolving door of native wild animals in need. The shrill calls of two peacocks patrolling the parking lot provide a daily soundtrack, as does the regular hum of airplanes taking off and landing at nearby Ramona airport. Desert mountains rise in the distance, in every direction but the west, and the afternoon sun is constant, unflinching.

"The biggest challenge is making sure they don't like us. We can't be friends. We have to love it when they hate us."

In wildlife rehabilitation circles, the Wildlife Center is best known for its work with predator species—coyotes, bobcats, skunks, birds of prey—whose rehabilitations can require a lengthy commitment, sometimes up to nine months in the case of bobcat kittens. Staff must act as surrogate mothers—from a distance—helping ensure the animals learn to scout for meals, find shelter, and live among their own species while also ensuring they don’t associate humans with food or friendship.

“The biggest challenge is making sure they don’t like us,” says Crumpacker, a New Jersey native who was studying rhinoceros tracks for the Endangered Wildlife Trust in South Africa when she was hired as director in September 2010. “We can’t be friends. We have to love it when they hate us.”

That certainly appears to be the case with the little bobcats brought in from Bill Freeman’s backyard. And to an outsider, any notion that these are cuddly kittens is quickly dispelled with the first growl—a distinctly wild voice of displeasure.

A new medical center will open in mid-2013, tripling the capacity to take in wild animals in need. But for now, animals are treated in what was the former shelter owner’s home. Dog crates—holding recovering hawks, coyote pups, and skunks—line tabletops in one room and fill a smaller back room. The examination table stands in what had been the kitchen.

This is the first stop for the bobcats, who are battling mange, parasites, anemia, and hunger.

Staff work quickly, purposefully; they have a window of 15 to 30 minutes before the sedation wears off. The bobcats are weighed and their temperatures taken. D’Amico clips tick after tick out of their ears, while veterinary technician Gina Taylor implants microchips, injects fluids and a standard house-cat vaccination, draws blood for an external study on mange, and applies a topical flea and tick treatment. They note that the male kitten, while feistier than his sister, is also colder to the touch, the mange leaving his forehead hair thin and crusty.

Once done, they gently place one kitten, and later the second, on a heating pad, draping towels around their crate. The female kitten’s body temperature sits at 96.4 degrees, her brother’s at 92.2. Typically, it should be about 100.

“There’s not a guarantee that this guy is going to make it,” Taylor cautions as she works on the male, wrapped in a towel and occasionally letting loose a groggy cry. “Most critical: We’ll see how he does tonight. If he survives tonight, and then if he survives another night, then I’ll feel much better.”

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