Tucson Wildlife Center: Rescuing, Rehabbing & Releasing Friends with Feathers and Fur

Tucson Wildlife Center: Rescuing, Rehabbing & Releasing Friends with Feathers and Fur

Young phainopepla being cared for at the Tucson Wildlife Center

For this post I spoke with Angéline Fahey, the Education Program Coordinator at the Tucson Wildlife Center, who has been working at the organization for the last three years.

Victoria: Hi Angéline! Tell me about the people at the Tucson Wildlife Center.

Angéline: We have two wildlife veterinarians, one vet tech, and six to twelve other employees, depending on the season. We also have about 180 volunteers with shifts ranging from four to eight hours. We are located in Tucson, but we actually serve eight counties in southern Arizona. We are overseen by Arizona Game and Fish.

Victoria: What sort of animals are helped at the Tucson Wildlife Center?

Angéline: We help lots of different animals. For example, here’s a white board with a critter count:

Tally of Animals at Tucson Wildlife Center on July 6, 2020

So on July 6, 2020, we had 425 animals on-site. 12 animals are permanent residents living in sanctuary; the rest are in rehabilitation. 

We have rescued 3,402 animals so far this year (which is a huge increase from last year at this time). Last year we rescued a total of 4,060 animals for the entire year. 

Victoria: Do you accept all animals?

Angéline: There are three types of mammals we don’t accept. We don’t take in bears, mountain lions, or deer, as we don’t have permits to rehab them; also deer may have wasting disease. However, we take in many other mammals: bobcats, coyote, raccoon, skunk, javelina, rabbits, and many more. These days, we even take in some snakes. We don’t help spiders, although we have gotten calls for them!

Editorial note: Chronic wasting disease is a prion disease, like mad cow disease, and is contagious among deer, elk and moose.

Some javelina that didn’t need rescuing. Yes, I like this picture. Johann Rafelski

Victoria: If someone finds an animal that needs rescuing, what should that person do?

Angéline: You should call the Tucson Wildlife Center at 520-290-9453; we have people who answer the phones around the clock. If the animal is young, such as a fledgling, we will almost always tell you to leave the animal alone. The parents are generally close by and will take care of it as soon as you leave.

Victoria: What happens to an animal after it comes to the Tucson Wildlife Center?

Cooper’s hawk getting an exam by wildlife veterinarian, Dr. Kramer

Angéline: First the animal’s condition is diagnosed. Often it’s just a matter of rehydration and restoration, but sometimes the injuries are greater. We have three different ICUs: one for larger birds; one for larger mammals; then another for small birds and mammals. We have digital X-ray, which can be important. A bird was once brought in with what appeared to be a broken wing, but it turned out it had been shot.

After a bird, for example, leaves the ICU, it needs to get its strength back. We start this rehab by putting it into a small enclosure, but with enough room to stretch and flutter about. Later, when a bird is ready, it’s moved to a much larger enclosure where it can really fly and its strength can be observed by the vets. Is it ready to go back out; can it take care of itself? For example, with an owl, is it flying silently?

The goal of Tucson Wildlife Center is to rehab and release, as close as to where the animal was found so it can rejoin its family. Sometimes treatment is just a matter of water and food and then taking the animals back to where they were found. Animals that cannot be rehabbed are usually put down. We need permission from Arizona Game and Fish to make an exception, as was done for a Harris’s hawk.

Harris’s hawk, Wikipedia Commons

Victoria: Can you tell me about some of the birds the Tucson Wildlife Center has rescued?

Angéline: This sharp-shinned hawk was found on the ground rolling on his back, due to cactus needles embedded in both feet. He was rushed to our wildlife hospital where veterinarians removed more than fifty needles from his feet during the first sitting, and hundreds more during the next few days. X-rays revealed that hundreds of needles had broken off below skin level, so the hawk was given daily Epsom salt foot baths to help coax out the remaining needles (pictured). After the final remaining needles were successfully removed, he was moved to a larger enclosure where he gained his strength back in flight. After a few more days of rehabilitation and a dozen foot baths later, the sharp-shinned hawk was brought back to the wild for release.

Sharp-shinned hawk who had an unfortunate encounter with a cactus

Victoria: That poor bird! Any others?

Angéline: A burrowing owl was seen attempting to fly in a Walmart garden center with his left eye closed. When Tucson Wildlife Center volunteers arrived to rescue the owl, he was in the parking lot. Our team swooped into action and safely rescued the feathered cutie. Upon rescue, an eye exam revealed a minor scratch, which was treated with eye drops. Although lovable, the owl was feisty and attempted to escape his enclosure frequently. In a few days the owl’s eye was healed, and he was returned to the wild.

Burrowing owl. Yes, this bird uses abandoned burrows of prairie dogs. Although it can fly, it’s also an excellent runner.

Victoria: I read at your website about a rescue of a pelican!  That seems strange for southern Arizona, as it’s so far from the ocean.

Angéline: Occasionally a young brown pelican, probably buffeted by winds, gets off course and then gets horribly lost. The pelican then sees a road, which can shimmer in the sunlight, looking like water. Because it thinks it’s heading to water, not road, the landing can be pretty hard. Tucson Wildlife Center received several calls about the pelican, and we sent out people after police blocked it off. It’s good to have animal experts as capturing a pelican isn’t easy; they have long sharp beaks and can peck out an eye. After taking the pelican back to the Tucson Wildlife Center, we rehydrated it and fed it (pelicans are expensive to feed; they need fresh fish). Once we make sure the bird was healthy, a volunteer drove it to San Diego and released it near the ocean.

Brown pelican (in Florida, not Arizona), Wikipedia, photographed by Terry Foote

Victoria: Why do you think people try to rescue animals? Why do you do it?

Angéline: So often the reason these animals are in distress is because of us, because of people, you know. The animal may have been hit by a car. It may have been poisoned by someone. Or it could be stuck on a glue trap. A glue trap is put out to capture unwanted animals, such as pack rats who have set up a home in an inconvenient spot. But glue traps can trap all sorts of other animals, too.

People feel guilt; people feel responsibility. Also, many people who work at Tucson Wildlife Center have a deep love for animals.

Victoria: I think doing what we can to preserve biodiversity is so important! Anyway, as you know, there’s been a big fire in the Tucson area during June and July. What impact does this have on the wildlife and what does Tucson Wildlife Center do and recommend?

Bighorn fire, picture taken June 30, 2020, NASA

Angéline: Tucson Wildlife Center does what it can to help. During the Aspen fire back in 2003, we had people out near the hotshot crews in order to rescue the animals. However, conditions were so severe most animals didn’t make it. We recommend that people who live near the fire zones but who are in their homes remember that many animals have been displaced. People should consider putting out water for the wild animals, but give them space. They’re refugees.

Editorial note on the Bighorn Fire: The bighorn fire was started on June 5, 2020, by a lightning strike and as of this blog has burned about 120,000 acres. My husband and I were both in a zone that had to be ready to evacuate at a moment’s notice. We packed our bags but we never had to load them in the car and drive away, even though we could see flames on nearby ridges and the air was fouled by smoke.

Victoria: Thanks, Angéline, for telling us about the Tucson Wildlife Center and all that you do! For more information about them, visit their website. You can also leave a question in the comment section below.

Gambel’s quail. There are a lot of quail at the TWC, because there are a lot of quail in southern Arizona

“Young crow, you don’t solve a problem by avoiding it.” Lord Onyx, in Hunters of the Feather

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