Sunday, May 28, 2017

A Visit to the Southwest Wildlife Conservation Center

It is becoming increasingly important that we communicate to the public the reasons that we have wildlife in captivity. A vital part of that story is giving a home to animals that have been injured or mistreated and cannot be returned to the wild. We were privileged this past week to visit one of the Desert Museum's sources for just such animals - The Southwest Wildlife Conservation Center in far northeastern Scottsdale.

In business for over 20 years, the center began with one injured coyote taken in by Linda Searles, the founder and Executive Director, and has grown into the 10-acre operation of today with over 100 rescued animals. If the animals can be rehabilitated and returned to the wild, they are kept in a separate area from those who cannot. The center is very careful to not allow those animals to become habituated to or imprinted on humans, so contact with them is strictly limited. The animals that we observed were those which can never return to the wild and are given sanctuary at the center. The reasons for that range from permanent injuries, mistreatment, being kept illegally, habituation to humans, given a death sentence (3-strike bears, wolves condemned for preying on livestock), etc. The center works closely with Arizona Game and Fish Department on rescues and confiscations. They have a small paid staff, a large contingent of volunteers and several contract veterinarians. A recent addition is the new veterinary center.

The center's mission is . . .

Southwest Wildlife rescues and rehabilitates wildlife that has been injured, displaced, and orphaned. Once rehabilitated, they are returned to the wild. Wildlife education includes advice on living with wildlife and the importance of native wildlife to healthy ecosystems. Educational and humane scientific research opportunities are offered in the field of conservation medicine.  Sanctuary is provided to animals that cannot be released back to the wild.

The animals we visited included Mexican gray wolves, foxes, coyotes, a large sulcata tortoise, mountain lions, bobcats, javelina, white-tailed deer, black bears, coatis, and one leopard-jaguar hybrid. Each one had an interesting, mostly heartbreaking story to tell, as related to us by our volunteer tour leader, Tara. Black bears whose mothers had been shot as a result of being habituated to humans; Leo, the leopard/jaguar hybrid who was bred for the entertainment industry and then sold to a roadside "zoo" in Douglas, Arizona; a mountain lion who was kept illegally as a pet (seriously?!). Our black bear, Strawberry, came from SWCC as did one of our coyotes and one of the beavers. Sometimes the animals go the other way, as in the case of three kit foxes, the Pepper Brothers - Chili, Hatch and JalapeƱo, who were sent to SWCC by the Desert Museum.


The center depends wholly on donations and tour revenue for its financial support. That revenue stream was severely curtailed in the last couple of years as a result of a new neighbor. As far out in the desert as this location seems, houses are quite close to them. They prided themselves on their good relations with their neighbors. But that was shattered when a new neighbor moved in and promptly filed a zoning complaint against the center, saying that they did not have the proper zoning to be conducting tours for the public. And he was right. They had to immediately cease giving tours. That financial blow was compounded by further legal action by this neighbor over noise (coyotes and wolf howls!) and dust complaints. Late last fall, Maricopa County Board of Supervisors granted SWCC a Special Use Permit, allowing for the resumption of tours and school group visits. This was good news, but the conflict with the neighbor continues.

See the video of the black bears having a snack.

I believe that all of the docents who visited the center were quite impressed with the facilities and with the dedication of the staff and volunteers to the welfare and well-being of the animal population. The center's website contains extensive information about the animals, the history, the legal battles, education programs and the philosophy of SWCC. ASDM is fortunate to have this resource, and so are the animals who depend on it for their existence. Check out this link to the Southwest Wildlife Conservation Center and read about all their programs.


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