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The Healing Ground, Page 4: Nature vs. Nurture

Resourcefulness is key in meeting the needs of each patient

All Animals magazine September/October 2012

  • Samson the lion. Ray Eubanks/The Fund for Animals Wildlife Center

by Michael Sharp

Sheltering a wild animal for years at a time requires a bit of a balance: Caretakers must provide enough distance for their charges to retain their wild natures but build enough trust to ensure proper veterinary care and other assistance. In an area where wildfires loom as a constant threat and animals may need to be evacuated, a small lockout area in each enclosure is a necessity. Staff teach sanctuary animals to walk into those areas, then into a crate—training that also helps with medical evaluations and rotation to different cages for enrichment. “Each animal is prepped,” Crumpacker says. “I know that Tonka cooperates within eight minutes. I know that Sheba cooperates within two minutes. I know that Ramon [a bobcat] takes three hours.”

Building structures must also accommodate the needs of short-term guests. Unlike the center’s aging permanent denizens, animals in rehab will one day be released and need to be prepared for reentry into the wild. On this June afternoon, eight coyote pups are graduating from a small wooden conditioning shelter to a larger prerelease enclosure, where they will remain until they are 6 months old. Following right behind them, three bobcat kittens are headed out of the medical center and into the shelter, where like the coyotes, they will spend two to three weeks adapting to the weather before moving to their own outdoor enclosure.

"If I could will you to stay alive, I would, because I thought about you all of last night."

In between moving the coyotes—a coordinated effort to net frantic pups in a tight space—and releasing the kittens, staff must make subtle changes to the shelter. Coyotes are ground dwellers and bobcats are climbers, so out come the little dens and in come logs, leaned up against perches.

There are more guidelines to this process: Young are always raised in groups—pairs, at the very least—to help teach each other proper communication and behavior. Staff minimize any handling and exposure to humans and human voices. And the enclosures are designed to allow pups and kittens to test their motor skills—climbing trees, building dens, finding food. There are plans to build a stream in the bobcat enclosure, with the hope they’ll someday look for natural drinking sources rather than backyard water bowls.

“We always get them when they’re really down,” wildlife caretaker Kim Spall says. “But then to see them go back out in the wild, when they’re back to their normal situation, it’s just really beautiful. That’s an amazing sight.”

Back in the medical center, caretakers hope for the same fate for the two bobcat kittens, barely strong enough to stand. The pair survived their first night, but there are still concerns. Fecal tests reveal intestinal parasites, and on the second day, the male kitten does not register a body temperature—meaning he’s dropped somewhere below 92 degrees.

He’s given more warm fluids. He’s placed in an incubator with his sister. “If I could will you to stay alive, I would,” Taylor tells him, “because I thought about you all of last night.”

The next morning, D’Amico is the first one into the medical center. She finds the two kittens snuggled together on a donated fur hat. The little male is no longer alive. But there is still hope for his sister, and in the days ahead, staff will give her a cube of frozen animal blood to lap up, with hopes of combating the anemia. They’ll look to “MacGyver” an oxygen hose into the incubator. They’ll give her injections for the mange and medication for the parasites and continue to feed her small meals. Eventually, she’ll be healthy enough to join other bobcat kittens outside in the conditioning shelter.

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