Current Issues


Wildlife Care Network moves to larger facility

March 28, 2012 6:03 AM


The critters of the Santa Barbara Wildlife Care Network are off to bigger and better things this week, with the organization moving all operations from small quarters in Fairview Center to a 1.8-acre property up the road.

With a Panda Express restaurant and the Fairview Barber Shop just steps away from the Wildlife Care Network's space at 139 N. Fairview Ave., where it has based its operations for the last six years, it's hard to deny it's a convenient spot for South Coast residents to drop off an injured bird or raccoon.

But the network's small staff is hoping a move to the Wendy McCaw Wildlife Care Center, which the organization purchased in 2004 with help from the News-Press co-publisher, will provide a better environment for animals, increase efficiency and save money on rent.

Open-air bird rehabilitation pools
Open-air bird rehabilitation pools are part of the new Wendy McCaw Wildlife Care Center in Goleta. MATT WIER/NEWS-PRESS
Pelicans rest at the edge of the pool.
Pelicans rest at the edge of the pool.
Sophie Busch, an animal care specialist, discusses the benefits of the new Wendy McCaw Wildlife Care Center
Sophie Busch, an animal care specialist, discusses the benefits of the new Wendy McCaw Wildlife Care Center.

"We're using our own property instead of leasing, and this is our long-range plan," Wildlife Care Network President Lessie Nixon Schontzler told the News-Press while giving a tour of the new facility at 1460 N. Fairview Ave. "This is where we're going to be and we're going to stay. We can invest in this."

While the organization has some big plans for the plot of land, including buildings to house mammals, there's already plenty to see, including two outdoor aviaries with pools dedicated to rehabilitating sea birds.

A pack of seven pelicans could be seen perched in one of the fenced-in habitats Tuesday, with some of the large birds splashing in the calm pool and freely fluttering about. Most are recuperating to be released back into the wild, but two will be sent to the Fresno Chaffee Zoo, as their injuries wouldn't allow them to be successful on their own.

While the organization still relies on the private aviaries of volunteers to house and care for injured animals, none of them have a facility such as this.

"If we kept a bird in a really small aviary, then they just won't be strong enough to migrate or fly up and dive down to catch a fish in the ocean," said Sophie Busch, an animal care specialist for the network.

Building the Wendy McCaw Wildlife Care Center has been a slow process, with numerous permits and regulations tied to construction. The sea bird aviaries were able to go up about two years ago after the county recognized the need as being an emergency, Ms. Nixon Schontzler said.

Smaller aviaries on the property were just completed about three weeks ago and were still empty Tuesday. In all, about 20 birds were on the property, but with baby season fast approaching that number is expected to soon explode.

Previously, many of the birds would have been housed in the four-room retail space at the Fairview Center, which the network took over in 2006 from a now-retired veterinarian. The space operated as a drop-off site for sick and injured animals and would at times hold as many as 200 birds at a time.

Residents can now drop off injured, sick and orphaned wildlife at a trailer to the front of the Fairview property, but Ms. Nixon Schontzler said this is a temporary solution. The network is in talks with UC Davis' Oiled Wildlife Care Network to build a permanent intake and administration building that would also function as an oil spill emergency center.

"There's a lot to be done," she said.

On top of relying on hundreds of volunteers, the organization must bring in about $330,000 a year in contributions to maintain services. The organization is preparing for its April 15 fundraiser, the 16th annual Wildlife Sanctuary Awards.

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