California Wildlife Center has three departments that work with animals: the Animal Care Department, the Orphan Care Unit (OCU), and the Marine Mammal Department.
CWC’s Animal Care Department provides veterinary triage, comprehensive medical treatment, and rehabilitative care to more than 3,000 land animals and birds and 170 individual species each year. Without intervention, these animals would perish. Injured animals often require surgery for severe wounds or bone fractures. Patients with illnesses are prescribed medications to treat their ailments. All patients receive rehabilitative care to ready them for release. Animal Care gives these animals a second chance to live out their lives in the wild.
The OCU specializes in baby birds and squirrels who have been separated from their parents while too young to survive on their own. In 2019, the OCU cared for 1,052 patients and a total of 44 different species. These included Eastern Fox Squirrels, Virginia Opossums, Mockingbirds, Hummingbirds, Mourning Doves, and many other bird species. CWC also cared for Western Skunk kits, Mule Deer fawns, and Raccoon cubs. Once old enough, these animals are released to the wild.
CWC is also the only organization permitted to rescue stranded marine mammals along a 35-mile-stretch of Southern California coastline. Marine mammals often face adversity because of a lack of fish due to rising ocean temperatures, domoic acid poisoning exacerbated by fertilizer run-off, and fishing entanglements caused by gill nets. CWC’s Marine Mammal Department rescues over 200 Northern Elephant Seal and California Sea Lion pups each year. Patients are treated in the CWC’s Marine Mammal Rehabilitation Center. Once in good health, the Seals and Sea Lions are returned to the Pacific.
California Wildlife Center is open to new patients 365 days a year. In January, CWC starts to receive calls for help for stranded, emaciated Sea Lion pups who have weaned from their mothers and are struggling to find fish. February sees orphaned squirrels and opossums and the first of the nestling birds arrive, usually Hummingbirds and Mourning Doves. March is the beginning of stranding Northern Elephant Seal pups, who, like their Sea Lion counterparts, have weaned but are failing to thrive. In April, CWC is likely to receive orphaned Mule Deer fawns. May brings more species of nestling and fledgling birds including crows, hawks, and songbirds. May is also when Coyote pups and Skunk kits arrive. Throughout June and July, baby birds and mammals continue to need care. In August, there is a second round of young squirrels and opossums. Fall is the slowest time of year, which sees the release of any orphaned patients still in care. During this time, injured migratory bird species such as Cedar Waxwings and Shearwaters arrive at the Center. Throughout the year, CWC receives hundreds of injured animals. Whether it is a bird caught by a pet cat, a fox struck by a vehicle, or a Bobcat suffering from rodenticide, each receives specialized treatment by staff.
CWC receives most patients from members of the public. In the case of marine mammals and some shorebirds, CWC sends a team out to rescue the animal. This animal is then brought back to the Center for treatment and rehabilitation.
The Hospital Manager oversees the care of birds and land animals and the Marine Program Manager is responsible for marine mammals. A full-time staff Veterinarian examines and creates a treatment plan for each animal which is then implemented by each department head and their staff. The Veterinarian performs any medical procedures necessary and regularly checks each patient before ultimately determining when an animal is ready to return to the wild. Staff monitors and tracks each animal’s progress in a detailed database to ensure they are receiving optimal care. Each patient has a different time frame for recovering, with some needing only a few days and others requiring months of care. The average patient at CWC rehabilitates for six weeks prior to release.