RENO, Nev. – Lake Tahoe Wildlife Care is the kind of place a pizza box can hold a pizza or an injured turtle.
Where a baseball cap is not sun protection, it is a means of transporting an injured weasel.
It was there that a trio of rehabilitating bears climbed into the attic and refused to come out. A few days later, the bears fell jumbled up through the ceiling tiles in their enclosure.
The South Lake Tahoe facility is also the saving grace for injured wildlife across the region.
Since 1978, Lake Tahoe Wildlife Care has rescued, rehabilitated and released more than 17,000 orphaned and injured wildlife. The center rehabilitates animals from Bishop to Placerville to Susanville, and occasionally animals from the northern Nevada region.
“We’re up for anything and we make it work,” said Denise Upton, Director of Animal Care.
The center recently moved from a 3/4 acre site to 27 acres and for the first time allows limited public events.
A new series on the property offers free educational lectures featuring animals that cannot be returned to the wild due to their injuries.
The “Fauna Wednesdays” are the first occasion for the public to meet some of the animals rescued by the care establishment. Most of the animals treated by the center have suffered human-inflicted injuries, intentionally or unintentionally, Upton said.
“This is their home,” said Bruce Richards, director of capital projects, pointing to the woods surrounding the care facility. “We really need the opportunity to communicate how to interact with wildlife and how not to create an orphan. Part of that is to convince people that we are the invasive species here.”
Lake Tahoe Wildlife Care is home to 700 to 900 animals per year.
During droughts, forest fires and other times of environmental distress, the center sees changes in the types of animals and injuries they treat.
With the drought, the center receives a higher than normal number of hungry red tailed hawks and small underweight coyotes.
Animals that live underground and can escape heat are doing well, Upton said. And animals that prey on burrowing creatures that come out at night, like owls, also find food.
But daytime feeders struggle, she said.
A handful of Red-tailed Hawks undergoing rehabilitation cannot be released in the Tahoe area where they were found as there is no prey to hunt and they will likely starve to death.
“Markleeville was a great place for us to release hawks, and now it’s gone (because of the Tamarack fire),” Upton said. “It’s getting harder and harder since it burns here, there and everywhere.”
Last month, the center welcomed a burnt bear in the Tamarack fire. An owner in Markleeville, Calif., Returning home from an evacuation, found the bear walking on its elbows, its paws scorched by the fire.
The center launched an appeal to the public this week to help locate the little one after he escaped from his rehab enclosure and dug a tunnel under an electric fence. Officials said Thursday he was seen with a bandaged paw hanging from a tree in the South Tahoe area and they are optimistic he will be rescued again.
The California Department of Fish and Wildlife requires the animals to be moved within 70 miles of where they were found, Upton said. According to the department, about 70 percent of animals moved further away do not survive.
In Nevada, animals cannot be transported across state lines without permission from the Nevada Department of Wildlife. But there are only three licensed rescue centers in Nevada, and two of them work exclusively with migratory birds. In 2018, NDOW relied on Lake Tahoe Wildlife Care for help after an outbreak of botulism among waterfowl.
About 50 to 60 calls arrive at the center per day, in addition to people who drive with injured animals.
Sometimes the calls or falls are not related to injured wildlife.
There was the man who didn’t want to come into his house because there was a bat in the room. Or the man whose chihuahua had died at home, and he didn’t know what to do with the body.
So far this year, the center has received three parakeets, a parrot and a Russian turtle.
“You never know what you’ll get when the phone rings,” said Upton, who has worked with the center since 1995.
Lake Tahoe Wildlife Care was founded by Cheryl and Tom Millham in their backyard. In 2016, construction began on the centre’s new facility, located at 1551 Al Tahoe Blvd. In 2019, staff, volunteers and animals moved to their new location.
Seven buildings have been erected on site to house the animals, including a large flight center for birds, and around 60 cameras are stationed throughout the center to monitor wildlife.
The site improvements were funded by donations – the nonprofit center operates with an annual budget of $ 325,000. The center has five paid staff, including Upton, and about five dozen volunteers.
A main office with a hospital and offices is still pending construction, and the goal is to eventually build an $ 8 million wildlife sanctuary for long-term animal housing and public awareness.
Animals like Porky the porcupine, who was found injured when he was just one day old, and Em the bald eagle, who has half a wing missing, cannot be returned in nature. They live on site and serve as ambassadors for the outdoor center during educational programming.
Until the wildlife sanctuary is built, hour-long lectures will be offered through September at the new outdoor learning center on campus, by reservation only, and will include a rotating program of topics and presentations from around the world. ‘experts. All will include information on what to do if you encounter a bear and what to do if you encounter an orphaned or injured wild animal.