photos by Spark Photography
Meet the Furry and Feathered Residents of 92129
Every issue of 92129 Magazine featured stories and articles about the amazing people that live in our community. Our neighbors, students, athletes and volunteers fill the pages and our hearts. But what about our non-human neighbors? Well, we figured it was about time to meet some of 92129’s furry and feathered residents. Read along as we chat with Beth Ugoretz, Executive Director of Project Wildlife, about their efforts to protect, rescue and rehabilitate our neighbors when boundaries of suburban life and wildlife overlap.
with Beth Ugoretz
Executive Director, Project Wildlife
What is the purpose of Project Wildlife?
Project Wildlife was founded in San Diego in 1972 as a nonprofit organization with the mission to improve the quality of life for local wildlife and the community by acting as the primary resource for animal rehabilitation and conservation education in San Diego County. We care for injured, abandoned and sick wildlife throughout San Diego County with the goal of returning healthy animals to the wild, and we provide educational programming for adults and children topics, related to local wildlife. Although we do not handle large predators, such as coyotes or cougars, we do work closely with other rehabilitation organizations that care for those animals. Project Wildlife serves one of the most biologically diverse areas in the United States, home to a significant number of threatened species, making us a critical community resource.
What is your role as executive director?
While we have a large volunteer base, Project Wildlife has a very small staff, so I wear many hats as executive director. Overall, I hope to lead the organization to fulfill our mission by helping as many animals as possible and educating the public on how they can better coexist with our abundance of wildlife. We are so fortunate to live in an area where we can see wild animals on a daily basis in almost every corner of our County. Since we are funded totally by donations, a part of my job is getting the word out about our organization so that the community understands the critical role we play in keeping San Diego wild and helps to support our activities. I also lead our efforts to ensure that the animals in our care get the best possible chance to recover and be reintroduced to their wild environment.
What kind of wildlife do residents co-exist with in 92129?
92129 residents are fortunate to have a great deal of open space surrounding their residential communities. The rolling hills and trails are home to a large variety of song birds, raptors, squirrels, skunks, raccoons, opossums, bobcats and coyote.
What should residents do if they encounter an animal in distress?
If you find a baby animal and are worried that it might have been abandoned, it is best to leave it and watch to see if the parent returns, as often they are simply out finding food. As mentioned below, you can also carefully place a baby back in its nest if it has fallen out. If you happen upon a wild animal that appears to be sick, injured or truly orphaned, remember that humans are considered a threat to wildlife, so even if you are trying to help, too much handling can create a deadly amount of stress. Act calmly and quietly. If you are sure it is injured, sick, or orphaned, bringing it quickly to a licensed rehab facility is the very best thing you can do for the patient. Time is often of the essence, so the sooner you can get an animal to us the better. The porch at our Triage Center in Linda Vista is open 24/7 for you to secure an animal overnight, where it can take some time to rest. If you are handling the animal yourself, always wear gloves or use a towel to protect your hands and place the animal in a container with air holes. Do not give it food or water, as its system is not in a condition to handle either. It is illegal to hold or keep wildlife without a rehab permit for more than forty-eight hours but we don’t recommend even keeping it overnight. The sooner you can provide it with a warm, dark, quiet place, and get it to us, the better our chances are of helping it.
Does project wildlife have a large volunteer base?
Project Wildlife is very fortunate to have a large and dedicated group of volunteers. We have about 600 active volunteers for our organization. Some work at our Triage Center to help care for and stabilize our animal patients or help us transport animals from drop off sites to our Triage Center. Others work in about seventy satellite care centers, principally located in volunteers’ homes, where wildlife continues to rehabilitate prior to eventual release, or help to build and repair our cages and aviaries. We have education volunteers who present programs to children and adults throughout the community. We also have volunteers who answer our informational phone line or who help with the many administrative tasks required for keeping track of our patients for reporting to the government agencies that regulate wildlife rehabilitation.
Are there any dangerous animals that live in 92129?
Most wildlife prefers to keep a distance from humans, but some get close to residential areas simply trying to find food and survive, or care for their young. Pets should not be left unattended in areas that are frequented by coyotes. Even a few minutes alone in a yard can be dangerous for small pets. Some species may be considered simply a nuisance, but can still pose a danger if they feel they need to protect their young. It is best to take preventative measures to discourage wildlife to prevent unwanted encounters. Do not leave dog or cat food outside, as it may attract animals looking for food. Keeping lids tightly shut on trash cans, sealing up access points to attics and crawl spaces, and picking up any fruit that drops can go a long way in protecting your property without harming wildlife.
How can residents of 92129 safely guide animals to not harm their grass, plants, and flowers?
Most wildlife will avoid humans, if possible; however, as urbanization has begun to encroach into our natural spaces, some animals have adapted to survive in human-inhabited areas better than others (e.g. opossums, skunks, raccoons). These animals still tend to move through these areas; however, we sometimes unwittingly encourage them to stay longer or revisit a site by creating opportunities for an easy meal or resting place. To prevent unwanted wildlife situations, we recommend the following: secure all garbage cans and/or keep them inside a garage or shed until trash pickup, clean up all clutter and debris piles that may encourage nesting or denning areas, feed pets indoors or be sure to bring pet food inside at night (it’s also a good idea to clean up pet waste quickly), secure openings into structures and remove plants or structures that may provide easier access into attics and crawlspaces (e.g. ivy on walls). If these efforts are not enough, there are also some simple and safe deterrents to discourage unwanted wildlife visitors in homes or gardens: try using a chili powder spray (or just plain chili powder) near or on plants to discourage nibbling (use carefully if pets or children are present, and wash thoroughly before consuming) – the chemical, capsaicin, is an irritant to mammals so it is okay to use in bird seed, place ammonia-soaked rags (or spray directly) around areas wildlife finds attractive (only for outdoor use), use motion-sensitive lights or moving objects (like balloons, garden flags and oscillating fans) to startle wildlife away from your home or backyard. The most important thing to remember is that poisons and pesticides can have far-reaching and unintended consequences – like a ripple-effect on other species – and tend to be ineffective at solving on-going wildlife concerns (new animals may simply move in). The better idea is to first correctly identify your problem so you can seek a targeted and safe solution (sometimes referred to as integrated pest management).
Is it true that baby animals that have been handled by humans will be rejected by their parents?
It is a myth that wildlife will reject its young if handled by humans. Wild parents have to occasionally leave to find food. Many animals come back to find that their babies are gone because a well-intentioned person thought they were orphaned or abandoned. Our website offers tips on how to determine if wildlife needs our help or if it warrants taking some time to observe and wait for the parents to return. Animals are always better off if they can stay with the parents. In fact, some species such as crows have very tight knit family groups, and it is very distressing to have a family member taken away.
Your website talks about the word “imprint.” Can you describe what that means and how it affects local wildlife?
To imprint wildlife means to teach a young animal to associate humans with a source of food, as they did their parents, thereby removing the necessary aversion they need to have towards humans for their safety and survival. It is actually illegal to intentionally imprint wildlife by trying to rehabilitate on your own or choosing to raise and keep a wild baby as a pet.
Do you have any remarkable stories from the Project Wildlife Triage Center?
Every patient and species is important to us so we celebrate every successful release! The ones that stand out the most in our minds are the animals whose injuries were preventable. One that stands out in our minds is the opossum who made the unfortunate decision to sniff around what turned out to be an electric fence. He was in critical condition when he arrived with close to 40% of his face covered in burns. After many months of treatment and therapy, he is healing nicely and preparing to return to the wild. However, often times, it can be the juvenile bird that finds it hard to survive and find food in its first year that simply needs our expertise to help it turn the corner and survive after arriving at our door, emaciated and anemic. It is always gratifying to see them gain strength and return to the wild.
What do you recommend for wildlife extraction/rescue? Are the any types of DIY extractions and/or rescue techniques?
Some people confuse wildlife extraction or exclusion from their homes with wildlife rescue. We rescue animals that have been injured or abandoned, or that appear sick. We do not “rescue” healthy animals that happen to live in your neighborhood! But there are things you can do to keep wildlife from making their home in your home. We have teamed with a company that does humane wildlife extraction and exclusion. While this is a fee-based service, Project Wildlife receives a portion of the proceeds. Humane exclusion involves encouraging the animals to leave your home, physically closing up any sites where they could reenter and educating the homeowner as to how to keep them out. People often do not understand that pest control companies that trap animals are required by law to euthanize the animals that they trap, so they are not taken out and released somewhere else. If you trap and remove animals without closing their entrance points, new animals will soon come to take their place. We would encourage people with wildlife issues in their home to check our website for information about extraction services.
What can residents do if they want to get involved in helping the local wildlife?
Residents can help local wildlife in several ways. They can start by minimizing harmful interactions with wildlife by not leaving food outside where it might attract wild animals that can become a nuisance or be dangerous to pets. Be watchful while driving in your neighborhood and drive slowly enough to stop for a crossing animal, especially during early morning and late afternoon hours.
Donations to Project Wildlife are greatly appreciated, as it helps support our efforts to provide healthy wild diets, medical care and rehabilitation of animals for eventual release. Although local humane societies and the County Department of Animal Services refer wild animals to us, we get no funding from them. We are supported solely through donations, so donations of any amount help us to help local wildlife!
We also recruit for and train volunteers to join our team. We particularly need people who might be willing to work towards operating a satellite rehab facility in their home by taking in injured or abandoned animals of a particular species. We help to create aviaries or caging systems for the animals in our care and provide species-specific training to committed individuals.
One of the best ways to positively affect wildlife is to remember that we share our communities with them, and should respect their right to space and the means to survive. This thought may help in encouraging small behaviors that can have a big impact, like not dumping dangerous materials down storm drains, recycling and conserving resources, or simply observing a safe distance from all wildlife. One of the most common and potentially dangerous affects we have on wildlife has to do with our trash. Items like yogurt cups, fishing line, cup lids and plastic ring holders can trap and injure wildlife, and/or cause major damage if consumed. Simple things, like cutting up these containers or balling up fishing line and properly disposing of it, can help. Even one conscientious act may save a life, and if we all participate, think of the difference we can make!
What is the most rewarding part about working with Project Wildlife? The most challenging?
The most rewarding part of working for Project Wildlife is helping individual animals who often have suffered the negative consequences of human interactions to be saved, heal and stay wild! I just love living in a community where I have the opportunity to see wildlife thriving, and it is thrilling to be able to keep our wild neighbors healthy for current and future residents. The most challenging aspect is perhaps seeing how much there is to do and knowing that we only do what our resources will allow.
What goals have you accomplished with Project Wildlife? What do you hope to accomplish?
I have only been with Project Wildlife for a short time, but last year we took in approximately 8,000 wild animals and, even with limited resources, we were able to release a much higher percentage of those animals than the national average. My goals are to help people become more aware of how they impact their wild environment and more aware of what Project Wildlife does for wildlife in San Diego County. I also hope to increase our base of support so that we can continue to pursue our mission!