Tag Archives: wildlife

‘We See a Lot of Hope Every Day’: SB Wildlife Care Network Growing as Need Expands

The pandemic might have produced a reduced need for services at many businesses and nonprofits. But that’s not the case at the Santa Barbara Wildlife Care Network. In fact, the coronavirus crises created a contrary result, even if only indirectly.

“We saw a dramatic increase in animals coming here in 2020, and we’re certainly on track for more of the same in 2021,” said Ariana Katovich, the executive director of Wildlife Care Network, whose mission it is to rescue, rehabilitate, and return to the wild animals that are sick, injured, or orphaned as well as birds and reptiles that have been similarly afflicted or coated with oil or tar.

Katovich noted that while perhaps part of the uptick is due to increased publicity and outreach efforts resulting in people becoming more aware of the organization, more is because of limitations during lockdown.

“People are spending a lot of time outside recreating, walking, or just being in nature, or doing projects in their backyards, and they’re noticing wildlife and seeing injured animals,” Katovich said.

Whatever the reason, the WCN has had to handle the influx of injured creatures with the same level of compassionate care despite having to follow pandemic protocols that resulted in many businesses letting employees work remotely.

“We haven’t been able to slow down, and we can’t work from home because everything happens here at the center,” Katovich said, gesturing to the organization’s Goleta grounds that formed the bucolic background for our Zoom conversation. “Our animal care staff has to be here on property, and we deal with members of the public every day because concerned citizens are constantly bringing us animals.”

But if COVID concerns provided a unique and unprecedented challenge — including a need for enhanced PPE because even wildlife medical procedures can require several trained staff working together — the executive director said the staff has also been “heartened by the fact that so many people, even in a pandemic, care about wildlife and go out of their way to bring animals who need help to us.”

The thing is that even before the pandemic, things were getting crowded at the WCN center.

The Santa Barbara Wildlife Care Network will have new digs with a state-of-the-art building
The SBWCN aids wildlife, including feeding hummingbirds, among others

When it started back in 1988, Wildlife Care Network consisted largely of volunteer “home rehabbers” helping animals in their kitchens and bathtubs. It was only in 2004 that its North Fairview property was purchased, with WCN moving into its permanent home in a single building in 2012. But its threadbare facilities consisting of barns and trailers added over the last decade has proven insufficient to meet the mounting needs, as the nonprofit whose service area ranges from Cuyama to the Ventura-L.A. county line averages as many as 40 intakes a day year-round, helping to heal thousands of animals covering 240 different species — just about everything except domestic or exotic pets, adult deer, bear, mountain lions, coyotes, and wild boars. 

And those numbers were growing even before COVID arrived. 

“Every year it’s getting harder to be a wild animal, because of how we’re encroaching on nature and other factors such as poison and traps,” said Katovich, who first encountered WCN as an 18-year-old freshman at UCSB when she brought an injured bird to the center. “The need just keeps growing.”

Good thing, then, that construction on the Network’s much-needed Wildlife Hospital broke ground last year and is well underway. The professional building was always part of the founders’ original vision, Katovich said, but it wasn’t until she took over as ED in 2017 that the project got going.

“It’s been a dream of the organization for more than 30 years, and we really wanted to see if we could make it happen. So, we took the first steps to launch our capital campaign and then hire our permanent wildlife veterinarian, who really informed the final design of the hospital. It’s been an incredible journey with the community coming together to help out.”

The improvements are taking place even as construction takes place, Katovich said, noting that the vet arranged for the donation of a small X-Ray machine as well as tables, lights, and tools for diagnosing and treating wildlife.

“It’s opened our eyes to how incredible the hospital is going to be when it’s completed, and we have dedicated space for all of the different functions,” Katovich said. “We will be able to diagnose issues quicker and treat animals more accurately, in house, rather than stressing out these animals when we have to bring them somewhere else. We can provide better pain control, too.”

The new hospital, which is expected to open by the end of the year, will also allow WCN to truly treat oiled wildlife onsite, a major issue considering that Santa Barbara is home to large oil seeps off the shore. Instead of having to transfer the birds to a facility in Long Beach once a week, Wildlife Care Network’s new facility will have a dedicated oiled wildlife capability.

“We’ll have four oil sinks so we can do washing as well as a specialized drying room and a pelagic pool that will allow us to swim the birds before we release them back out into the wild,” Katovich said. “That really takes our capability to a whole new level and allows us to treat more of those animals here in Santa Barbara, as opposed to transferring them somewhere else.”

Less esoteric, but equally important, are the logistical improvements the hospital will bring, including temperature control, proper ventilation, solid walls for sound control, floors that can be quickly and easily hosed down with drains in the floors, and a dedicated kitchen to prepare animal diets.

“These are all things that really benefit a fragile being that is trying to heal,” Katovich said. “That’s really what it’s all about: always improving upon our mission to save wild animals.”

While the capital campaign has raised most of the $6 million goal, about $800,000 is needed to complete the fundraising, she said. 

“We’re so grateful that we’re this far along and can’t wait until we are able to build the raptor aviary and the mammal enclosure,” she added, noting that she and her staff are happy to talk to anyone who would like to learn more about supporting WCN.

But dollars aren’t the only way to get involved.

Volunteers are always in demand, even with many of the nonprofit’s workers who stayed home during the pandemic returning to helping out.

“Our staff is working so hard to take care of animals that every person that helps us answer the phone, transport animals, wash dishes outside, clean the crates and even help feed the baby birds really makes a difference,” Katovich said. “We have volunteers who knit nests that we can use for baby birds. People shop off of our wish list on Amazon. There are so many ways to help us and we’re always eager to work with people on discovering what they want to do and how to channel that here at the center.”

That assistance proves rewarding for all, especially during our still trying times, she said.

“We see people every day who are really upset that an animal got injured, and when they talk to us and see how we take care of the animals, they feel so relieved. We see a lot of hope every day and witness an amazing side of the human spirit.”

For more information, visit www.sbwcn.org.

NOW LIVE: Watch newly hatched California condor chick live on ‘Condor Cam’

For the sixth year, people from around the globe can get up-close-and-personal with an endangered California condor chick in real-time through live streaming video of a cliff-side nest in a canyon near the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Hopper Mountain National Wildlife Refuge in Ventura County, California. 

California condor chick #1075 hatched on April 10, 2021. Its parents are ten-year-old female condor #594 and 15-year-old male condor #374. This is the pair’s first nesting attempt together and they are using a nest cavity used in 2018 by #374 and his former mate. Female condor #594 previously paired with male condor #462 in 2018 and 2020, successfully fledging one chick each year. This year marks male condor #374’s sixth nesting attempt at raising a chick; he has successfully fledged four chicks in previous years. 

Followers of the California Condor Cam watched a chick hatch live in the wild for the first time in history from another cliff-side nest on Hopper Mountain NWR in 2016. Each year livestreaming video of California condor chicks gains worldwide attention – attracting hundreds of thousands of viewers from all over the world.

“The condor cams do an incredible job of lowering the barriers to experiencing the beauty and challenges of being a condor. Each of the adults has an incredible backstory that can stretch decades, and for viewers to witness the next generation of condors while watching from anywhere in the world is a testament to the continuing power of this successful conservation story,” said Charles Eldermire, Cornell Lab Bird Cams project leader. “That’s not just good for viewers—it’s good for the condors, too.”

The 2020 nesting season resulted in just one successfully fledged chick, condor #1048, from parents #594 and #462, though the future is looking bright for 2021 with 11 active nests in the Southern California flock. 

“We are thankful for our many partners in this effort and optimistic about the future of the California Condor Recovery Program, despite last year’s disappointing nesting season. We’re excited to see a bounce back from last year,” said Arianna Punzalan, supervisory wildlife biologist with the Service’s California Condor Recovery Program.

The number of California condors dropped dramatically in the mid-20th century, leading the Service to designate the species as endangered under the Endangered Species Act. By 1982 there were only 22 of the iconic birds left in the wild. Today, due to intensive, ongoing captive breeding and recovery efforts led by the Service in conjunction with multiple public and private partners, the California condor population has grown to just over 500 birds worldwide, with more than half of the population flying free.

“The condor program is a clear example of the strength of public-private partnerships in achieving conservation objectives,” said Dr. Estelle Sandhaus, the Santa Barbara Zoo’s Director of Conservation and Science. “We’re so excited to be streaming again in 2021 with a new condor pair. What will the future hold for 594 and 374? Only time will tell, and through the support of our Condor Cam partners, we will learn together with viewers all around the world!” 

In California, wild condors nest, roost or fly in the mountains of Monterey, San Benito, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, Ventura, Los Angeles, Kern, Tulare and Fresno counties, and the Sierra Nevada Mountains. The wild population continues to grow, and will someday include condors from a newly designated release site in the Pacific Northwest.

The number one killer of California condors is still lead poisoning, caused by condors feeding on carcasses containing lead bullet fragments. Peer-reviewed research shows that lead poisoning is a serious health problem for both wildlife and humans, and the Service is working with partner organizations and the hunting community as it transitions to the use of non-lead ammunition alternatives. Hunters continue their proud tradition of wildlife conservation by using these non-lead alternatives.

Another threat specific to condor chicks is “micro trash.” Micro trash refers to small coin-sized trash items such as, nuts, bolts, washers, copper wire, plastic, bottle caps, glass, and spent ammunition cartridges. Condor parents collect these items and feed them to their chick, which can cause serious problems with the chick’s development. While it is not completely understood why this occurs, many biologists believe that the condor parents mistake these items for pieces of bone and shell which provides a source of calcium if fed to the chick.

Conservation efforts toward the recovery of the California condor are achieved only through partnerships amongst federal and state agencies, together with private landowners and organizations. The Huttons Bowl Condor Cam is made possible through access provided by private landowners, and through the financial and technical support of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Santa Barbara Zoo, Cornell Lab of Ornithology, the Western Foundation of Vertebrate Zoology, Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund, and Friends of California Condors Wild and Free. 


To watch the Condor Cam, visit: www.allaboutbirds.org/condors

For answers to frequently asked questions about the nest cam, the parents and the chick, visit: https://www.fws.gov/cno/es/CalCondor/CondorCam.html

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service works with others to conserve, protect, and enhance fish, wildlife, plants, and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. For more information about our work and the people who make it happen, visit http://www.fws.gov/cno or connect with us via Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Flickr.

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology is a membership institution dedicated to interpreting and conserving the earth’s biological diversity through research, education, and citizen science focused on birds. Visit the Cornell Lab’s website at birds.cornell.edu

The Santa Barbara Zoo is located on 30 acres of botanic gardens and is home to more than 500 individual animals in open, naturalistic habitats. It is accredited by the Association of Zoos & Aquariums (AZA), representing the highest level of animal care, and participates in AZA cooperative programs for endangered species including Masai giraffe, California condor, radiated tortoise, island fox, and Western lowland gorilla, among others. Visit www.sbzoo.org

The Western Foundation of Vertebrate Zoology (WFVZ) is both a natural history collection specializing in eggs and nests of birds from all over the world, and a research and education institution dedicated to studying and teaching about the conservation of the world’s bird species. The WFVZ has contributed information to thousands of research projects since its inception in 1956.  Visit us at www.wfvz.org, and on Facebook and Instagram.

Our Wild Neighbors

Ariana Katovich, Executive Director of the Santa Barbara Wildlife Care Network, winds her way through Montecito, a Great Horned Owl in a crate in the backseat.

Today’s mission is nothing new to Katovich, who returned to Santa Barbara to usher the Wildlife Care Network into a new age three years ago. From a clutch of sheds, trailers, and other buildings in the Goleta hills, she, anywhere from 15-32 staff (depending on the season), and an army of nearly 300 volunteers rescue, rehabilitate, and return to the wild sick, injured, orphaned, or oil-impaired wild birds, reptiles, and small mammals in Santa Barbara and Ventura counties.  

The volume is daunting: 40 intakes a day of 200 species ranging from badgers to Brown Pelicans during the spring, a helpline that rings 12,000 a year and as many as 6,000 feedings a day of baby birds from sunup to sundown. 

“We are working as hard as we can to make sure animals get the best treatment they deserve,” Katovich says.

To accomplish that, the 32-year-old nonprofit is entering a transformational stage of its growth: building a true wild animal hospital that will help Katovich and her team mitigate human impacts to the region’s wildly diverse fauna. Katovich says that 90% of the animals that the network cares for are there because they were hit by cars, attacked by cats or dogs, poisoned, or caught in a fishnet. The result is orphaned baby animals, and complex injuries that require full-blown surgery.

“The hospital will allow us to serve thousands of animals every year,” Katovich says. “To provide services that we have never been able to provide, from complex surgeries to raptor care.”

For Katovich, who as a UCSB undergrad started the “UCSB Coastal Fund,” which has since raised $5 million to preserve the idyllic campus’ coastline, rehabilitating wildlife is a defining aspect of local citizenship. 

“I feel like it is our responsibility to take care of these wild neighbors,” she says. “It’s what makes Santa Barbara home. The hummingbirds, the pelicans, and even the skunks. People recognize that part of our local identity is to care for and appreciate wildlife.” 

The sun is getting low in the hills of Montecito. Katovich pulls up to board member Connie Pearcy’s house. She and Wildlife Veterinarian Dr. Avery Berkowitz take the crate out of her car, open the door, and watch as the owl flies up into a sprawling oak. 

Half an hour later, she and Pearcy are enjoying a glass of wine and watch as the owl flies from tree to tree, finally settling. It looks out over Montecito’s natural splendor, the home it knew before its wing was entangled in a net and the owl spent eight days in care.