Saving Wildlife in a Pandemic

Unfortunately, wildlife hasn’t gotten the memo there is a pandemic forcing new protocols on us all. Around this time of year Santa Barbara Wildlife Care Network generally is holding its collective breath as it awaits the annual deluge of orphaned wild babies. Dozens of ducklings, stinking (adorable) baby skunks, and awesome baby opossums arrive — all in desperate need of help. They require warmth, nutrition, medication, and around-the-clock care. They need us when their parents encounter cars, fishing hooks, poison, cats, tree trimming, and the many other dangers in the urban world. This is the time of year when our organization, the Wildlife Care Network, hires additional seasonal staff members to keep up the pace from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. every day of the week.

Generally, SBWCN would rely on its army of hundreds of volunteers to clean enclosures (So. Much. Laundry), chop vegetables, mix up baby formula, transport animals, and feed baby birds every 20 minutes from dawn to dusk. For over 30 years, SBWCN has been a volunteer-driven organization — passionate people who care about our wild neighbors.

But here we are today amidst COVID-19, which doesn’t come with a playbook on how to operate under these conditions. SBWCN is a crew of rehabbers, who at their core are flexible, creative, and adaptive people. For one thing, we are going back to our roots: homecare. We are so inspired and grateful that longtime volunteers have offered to care for animals in their own homes, to reduce the patient load at our center in Goleta. Volunteers chop up fruits and veggies at home and deliver them in neat packages ready to go. Animal Care staff are all working their maximum hours, with masks and gloves, to make up for the shortfall without the usual crew of volunteers, often working overtime and closing late. We are desperately trying to find seasonal staff to hire to help lighten the load, all at a time when the economy is uncertain. And, we are just at the start of baby season. Right now, maybe 20 animals will arrive a day. However, as spring season gets going (and lasts through August) up to 60 animals will arrive a day. We have already seen a 39-animal day — all babies.

Wildlife care is a community effort. Generosity of donors and volunteers makes this work possible. Animals would not be given a second chance at a wild life without a network. We can remove fishing hooks. We can heal wounds. We can nurse newborn babies to grow and thrive. But we need help to make it happen. For this reason, we have started a “Fund for Baby Animals” to help rally our community around our shared values of loving and caring for wildlife. Anyone can make a donation or even spread the word by going to our website: www.sbwcn.org/donate

This time is so tough, and we are all wishing for brighter and healthier days. Like most people, I am finding respite in being outdoors and connecting to nature. Watching hummingbirds in the garden has never been so satisfying! I hope it gives you some hope that people, everyday citizens, find animals that need help and bring them to us for care. Hour after hour, we get calls from people who need to find help for wildlife (and by the way, that number is: 805-681-1080). People take time out of their day, even now, to bring vulnerable wild animals to us directly. Wildlife rescue and people’s concern for animals displays the best of humanity, and our shared connection. From all of us at Wildlife Care Network, be well. We’ll get through this wild world, together.

Ariana Katovich is executive director of Santa Barbara Wildlife Care Network.

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