Morro Bay wildlife center nurses animals back to health

nwilson@thetribunenews.comFebruary 15, 2014 

The Pacific Wildlife Care center in Morro Bay last week completed its rehabilitation and release of a red-tail hawk that was hit by a car on the Cuesta Grade on Christmas Day.

The center also cleaned a grebe covered in oil, likely from seepage into the ocean after recent storms. The bird was recently found beached, nearing death, at the Oceano Dunes.

The nonprofit center, located on Morro Bay Power Plant property, treats more than 2,000 sick or injured animals per year.

Some in the community had wondered if the facility would stay now that the power plant has been retired. For now, the answer is yes.

Pacific Wildlife Care will continue to sublease from the adjacent nonprofit Marine Mammal Center, which has an agreement with the plant to use the space until 2022, said Lisa Harper Henderson, site manager of the organization that rescues hurt or ill marine mammals.

The plant was retired earlier this month, and Dynegy is looking into alternative options for the site, including an ocean wave energy facility that would use the existing plant switchyard that connects to the grid.

Meanwhile, Pacific Wildlife continues its mission.

“We serve a unique role,” said Meg Crockett, Pacific Wildlife’s board president. “We’re the only organization in San Luis Obispo County that rescues and rehabilitates birds, land mammals and reptiles.”

A tour of the Pacific Wildlife Care center on Friday revealed a busy operation.

Jeanette Stone, the center’s operations director, and other rescuers, used warm water and a biosolvent called methyl soyate to scrub the hardened oil from the grebe, which probably would have died without treatment. The process took about 90 minutes.

“The oil gets really hardened and stuck to the bird,” Stone said. “We have to loosen it up to get it off.”

A malnourished bobcat in a caged area growled its displeasure at the proximity of human visitors as it is nursed back to health. And three red-tailed hawks fluttered awkwardly while recovering from broken bones.

Not far away, veterinarian Shannon Riggs was drawing blood from a skunk that had been attacked by a dog.

Fortunately for the skunk, which reacted to the medical attention by emitting a foul odor, no serious injuries had occurred and the animal was expected to recover.

Riggs specializes as a wildlife veterinarian, a job that demands knowledge of about 140 species, their diets and how best to treat them.

Up to 60 animals at a time are housed at the facility, which receives animals taken to vets or reported through their hotline – 543-9453 (WILD).

The facility is a kind of emergency room and hospital for the animals; it includes an X-ray machine and operating table.

Riggs’ work entails feather grafting – called “imping” – and treating fractures or wounds.

“It’s never boring,” Riggs said. “There’s always something new. You’re helping correct wrongs people perpetrate on these animals.”

Riggs has treated electrocuted birds as well as those who became entangled in fishing lines.

Many animals have required care after consumption of rat poison. Some have suffered gunshot wounds and numerous birds have been mangled by domesticated cats. But people can take precautions to help prevent wildlife from injuries.

“I know this is controversial, but I’d encourage people to keep their cats indoors,” Riggs said. “I’d also tell people to be careful when driving, especially in the spring when more animals are out at night.”

Crockett said the center operates on a budget of about $300,000 per year, almost entirely from donations. Pacific Wildlife also welcomes volunteers.

“I’d encourage anyone who wants to volunteer,” Crockett said.

Stay updated by adding Nick Wilson on Google+.

The Tribune is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service