Lisa Bates, the founding executive director of the Tucson Wildlife Center, spent her childhood exploring the desert and rescuing injured animals around Tucson. When she retired as a plant pathologist in the mid-1990s, Bates decided to return to what she loved doing as a kid: helping desert wildlife. The center, which has a facility on the far eastside, started in 2000 and relies entirely on donations to rescue, rehabilitate and release wild animals. For more information on the center and how to help, visit www.tucsonwildlife.com. Mari Herreras, email@example.com
How did you get back to rescuing wild animals after you retired?
In 1998, I started training. I spent a year at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum and two years working under wildlife rehabilitators, and then ... (also worked) under a wildlife veterinarian. During my training, I started the center as a nonprofit in 2000.
How do you do your work?
We are licensed by (the) Arizona Game and Fish (Department) and (the) U.S. Fish and Wildlife (Service). They started referring calls to us and then other organizations, like vet hospitals, and soon enough, we got a reputation. Now we take all the public calls. We do the help line for all of Southern Arizona. We are the only rehabilitators with medical and surgery facilities at the center. We work with probably eight different veterinarians and two human orthopedic surgeons.
What's the biggest injury you see?
(Animals) hit by a car are usually No. 1 in calls.
What kind of animals?
We specialize in large animals, like javelinas, coyote, bobcats, hawks, eagles, owls, raccoons, skunks and more.
How many animals do you see each year?
We've gone from 300 animals per year to 700 in just the last couple of years. It's really increasing. It's due to the human/wildlife interaction. There are so many cars and so many roads, and many birds flying (into) windows. For birds, especially the hawks and owls, they don't see windows very well. Many also hit electric wires. In the big cities, lights on the building are a problem for birds migrating. They are attracted to lights and end up hitting windows.
I understand we are seeing an increase in javelinas in the middle of the city.
Yes, we are getting a lot of calls. It's not a good thing for the javelinas to be stuck in the urban setting.
You don't relocate animals just because they are in the city. You help animals only if they are injured.
Our licenses and permits from government agencies do not allow us to rescue what they call "nuisance" wildlife.
What other problems come up for animals in Southern Arizona?
Poison, or what we call secondary poison—usually set out by people for packrats. When you have a sick little mouse, it's an easy catch for any predator (which is then also poisoned). So there's a lot of secondary poisoning. Antifreeze is going to be big issue during the winter.
What's your biggest challenge?
Finding safe habitat-release sites that are remote. We always take (animals) home to their original territory if it is possible, but if there is no family there, or the territory is dangerous for them, then we try to form families at the center so they can go out in a group. We just don't dump them in the desert. We acclimate them in an enclosure at the release site, and they get familiar with the territory. The time is usually a week to three weeks for acclimation.
What can you use right now, besides donations?
We need more rehabilitators. We'll train anybody who wants to help animals from their home. They don't need to have the science background or the medical background we have. We are running out of space.
What do you get out of it?
Well, right now, we're building a wildlife hospital, the first in Southern Arizona, that we hope will be done maybe in three years. Our architect, who is working for us pro bono, said, "We're doing all the right things for all the right reasons." That's true. It's just the satisfaction of seeing an animal that is suffering ... get the specialized help that he needs, and then seeing him go back to his family or to the wild. There's no better satisfaction.