WILDLIFE RESCUE AND REHAB
The in-house communications department of a national animal protection society
asked me to document a facility they helped fund on a distant country road in
Southern California. Wildlife rehabilitation was the main focus, along with
managing a few exotic pets.
The parklike setting contained a veterinarian hospital, an animal-centric
commercial kitchen, sturdy outdoor pens, large aviaries, staff and volunteers,
and permanent living quarters for animals that could not be placed anywhere
or released into the wild.
The animals were as common as a local opossum hit by a car and as exotic as
an abandoned pygmy hippopotamus that had been an illegal pet. While the
hippopotamus looked cute, I was warned that no one - not even staff - was
allowed inside its pen; they were as dangerous here as in Africa.
A colony of feral cats had been removed from an uninhabited island off the
California coast so that original animal populations could rebound (which they
did). The cats lived in a wire enclosure as large as a house because they could
not be housebroken.
Two cougars were going to live out the rest of their days there, along with various
raptors, bobcats, and a coyote.
The staff was more than accommodating, were mission-driven, and loved their
charges. It was thrilling to get close - but not too close - to these animals without
the crowds and theatrics of a zoo; they don't get that many visitors (except for the
cats), and paid as close attention to me as I did them.