Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Creatures from the wild, once pets, now saved

Center rescues animals that should have never been held captive, educates humans

Saturday, September 23, 2006
By Linda Goldston

The great horned owl had clipped wings, was deathly thin and very aggressive toward humans when it was rescued by the Wildlife Center of the Silicon Valley.

An American crow had been fed Arby's roast beef sandwiches and crackers for months before someone finally brought it in.

But that wasn't as bad as the albino crow that had broken wings and was completely socialized around humans when it was surrendered. Or the red-tailed hawk that had been cooped up in a tiny cage.

Every year, the center rescues from six to nearly a dozen wild critters that people have tried to turn into pets. And for every one that's rescued, wildlife officials know there are many more that perish or remain captive in cramped cages in people's homes. Most of the animals are picked up in the spring when some babies fall out of
their nests or their parents abandon them.

"First of all, it's against the law to have them," said Janet Alexander, director of operations for the San Jose-based center. "It's also cruel to the animals; they're meant to be wild creatures."

For example, wild birds are protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. Violations can result in fines of up to $500 and six months in jail.

It's too soon to know whether the great horned owl can be released back to the wild because it needs to grow new feathers and show that it can catch live prey. But the center staff has determined that the albino crow could never survive in the wild and will be used as a "goodwill ambassador" to help educate people about the perils of
wild pets.

Staff members made an exception to their rule of not naming the wild animals they take in and have dubbed the albino crow Beans.

Alexander said they can't release Beans because he's too used to being around humans and the sun would blind him in the wild.

"He'll help us teach people about why it's wrong to make wild animals pets," she said.

An article to be published soon in the center's newsletter -- written by volunteer Shira Gruhl -- outlines numerous reasons why wild animals suffer as "pets" and details the dangers of keeping them.

They include:

* Confinement is stressful for the animals, causing them to be agitated for long periods, which can lead to weakened immune systems and death.

* Keeping wild animals as pets can cause them to self-mutilate out of boredom or "imprint" on humans as their role models.

* Captive wild animals require specialized diets and can be very destructive to furniture -- and people. They may attack if they feel threatened.

* Wild animals can transmit a variety of diseases to humans, including rabies and roundworms.

"You can take an animal out of the wild, but you can't take the wild out of the animal," Alexander said. "We spent thousands of years domesticating dogs."

Just recently, the center was able to rescue a red-tailed hawk from a San Jose family. The center learned about the animal when the family dropped off a sick baby pigeon. While they were at the center, one of the family's children said their daddy had "a big eagle at home."

It turned out to be a red-tailed hawk, and the family agreed to surrender the bird after more than an hour of conversation with the center staff.

"They didn't have any idea whatsoever that it was illegal to harbor a wild bird," said Ashley Kinney, animal care assistant. "The man had scratches up and down his arms and was bleeding when they brought the hawk in."

The man's wife said they clipped the hawk's wings "because he kept trying to fly away," Kinney said. The staff hopes the bird can be released after she grows new feathers.

For more information, check the center's Web site at www.wcsv.org.

The center at 3027 Penitencia Creek Road in San Jose. Hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Phone: (408) 929-9453.

Contact Linda Goldston at lgoldston@mercurynews.com or (408) 920-5862.

http://cwapc.org/news/NewsDescription.asp? FileName=news_20060923.html

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