Wildlife finds safe haven at Southwest Wildlife Conservation Center

One of the hundreds of animals at the Southwest Wildlife Conservation Center often seen in neighborhoods. (Photo by Arianna Grainey)

Southwest Wildlife Conservation Center is rescuing native wild animals who lose their homes to new development, become injured, orphaned or abandoned, all while educating the public about cohabiting with neighborhood wildlife.

The Scottsdale-based non-profit organization has rescued and rehabilitated thousands of wild animals during its past 20 years, with a goal to rescue, rehabilitate and release animals back in to the wild.

The facility provides a permanent home in its accredited sanctuary for animals who cannot survive in the wild. However, many rehabilitated animals at the center are released back in the wild where they belong after being nurtured back to health, officials there say.

A facility open to wildlife in-need 24-hours a day, the facility is a place of refuge for many species including the black bear, bobcat, coati, coyote, deer, fox, jaguar/leopard, javelina, Mexican gray wolf, mountain lion, owl, porcupine, tortoise and skunk.

Southwest Wildlife officials educate the public about animals by encouraging them to learn about and respect the wildlife while conserving its habitat. The organization works with other agencies including the Arizona Game and Fish Department, U.S. Fish and Wildlife, local law enforcement and fire departments.

“Wild animals are becoming increasingly urbanized and are living in and around neighborhoods. Many animals such as javelina, coyotes and bobcats are familiar sights in many Scottsdale neighborhoods,” says Southwest Wildlife Conservation Center Animal Care Manager Kim Carr in an emailed response to questions.

“One thing we want to impress upon the public is NEVER feed a wild animal. Wild animals can become a nuisance and/or dangerous very quickly if they’ve been taught that people equal food.”

Some animals commonly rescued in Scottsdale neighborhoods are javelinas, bobcats, coyotes and sometimes raccoons, Ms. Carr noted.

She encourages people to call Southwest Wildlife’s emergency line at 480-433-5656 if a wild animal appears injured or sick, so the situation can be assessed.

Although the organization specializes in larger mammals, there are other local rehabs who care for birds and small mammals, she says, referencing a list of those on their website at: https://www.southwestwildlife.org/what-we-do/education/resources/

(Photo by Arianna Grainey)

“We strive to keep animals for the shortest amount of time possible. Depending on how severe their injuries are, they may need to stay with us a few months,” Ms. Carr said.

During the animals’ stay at the retreat, a lot of work is done by staff to maintain the facility, tend to temporary and permanent animal residents and provide guided tours to visitors.

There’s “No such thing as an average day,” stated Ms. Carr.

She described the work involved in keeping the wildlife center operating that entailed a veterinary technician whose mornings begin by checking on clinic patients, followed by distributing medication doing a morning walk-through of the property to check on the animals.

An injured animal that needs to be assessed and stabilized can come in any time of day or night, she said. Although the number fluctuates daily, the facility usually has up to 250 animals.

“Our doors are open to animals in-need 24 hours a day, 365 days a year,” Ms. Carr said. “Wild animals don’t observe regular business hours, holidays or weekends.”

If surgery is advised, the technician contacts one of the volunteer veterinarians. Meanwhile, between animal emergencies, the clinic animals still need to be cleaned and fed.

“During ‘baby season’ our rooms are filled with orphans of all shapes and sizes…coyotes, bobcats, raccoons, skunks and javelina that need to be fed every few hours. For the animal keepers, the day is filled with lots of diet prep, cleaning, feeding, enrichment and generally making sure all the sanctuary and rehab animals have what they need,” she explained.

Bears, mountain lions, Mexican gray wolves and bobcats are a few of the species the keepers care for. Volunteers help with cleaning and feeding some of the other animals such as coyotes, raccoons, foxes, porcupines and skunks, with hundreds of pounds of food consumed by animals daily.

Mexican gray wolves eat a special, ground carnivore diet, sometimes deer and elk meat. Mountain lions and bobcats are fed ground carnivore diet, chicken, turkey and sometimes deer and elk meat too. Bears get a variety of fruits, vegetables, nuts, meat/fish and dry dog food.

Frozen mice and rats are fed to the raptors, coyotes, foxes and bobcats. Depending on the species, herbivores are fed hay, pellets, fruits, vegetables and nuts. Some of the animals get high-quality dry dog or cat food as a portion of their diet, Ms. Carr detailed.

She recounted success and sad stories from the conservation center’s passionate work.

“We receive lots of orphaned animals each year. We have foster parent coyotes and bobcats to raise the youngsters after they’ve been weened from bottle feeding. Foster parents help keep the orphans wild and afraid of humans, which will increase their odds of survival once they’re released,” Ms. Carr says.

“These foster parents are amazing. We have an older female bobcat we call ‘Mrs. Foster.’ She’s raised countless orphans over the years, always welcoming them as if they were her very own kittens. It’s a great feeling when we’re able to release a healthy, wild bobcat who came in as a tiny orphan.”

The sad stories surround animals who are brought to the center after being kept illegally as pets.

“Wild animals kept as pets are often fed an improper diet, which can lead to all sorts of issues including metabolic bone disease. We see wild animals that have been declawed by their owner to make them a ‘safer’ pet. Many declawed bobcats reside at our sanctuary that were confiscated or relinquished when they became too much for the owners to handle,” she says.

“We also have a leopard/jaguar hybrid, Leonardo, who was declawed and had his canine teeth removed to be part of a Las Vegas magic act. Fortunately, his bad days are behind him and he’s a happy, spoiled boy now.”

The Southwest Wildlife Conservation Center Education Department stays busy leading tours, scheduling school field trips and educating the public about wildlife, ensuring that people understand and respect the ecosystem.

Guided tours are offered at the rehab facility/sanctuary by reservation only and can be scheduled through the website. The conservation center neither buys, breeds, sells, nor trades animals. They are never used for hire or for commercial purposes either, according to their website.

A common misconception about the wildlife center is that it is funded by tax dollars, Ms. Carr noted.

“We don’t receive any state or federal funding. We’re funded by donations and grants, as are many wildlife organizations,” she said. “We simply could not do this without your (the public’s) support.”

See https://www.southwestwildlife.org/ for more information.

Northeast Valley Editorial Assistant Delarita Ford can be reached by e-mail at dford@newszap.com.

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