The Southwest Wildlife Conservation Center (SWCC) is sort of like The Island of Misfit Toys from Rudolph – they provide home, sanctuary and love for creatures that don’t quite fit anyplace else and that have no place else to go. They provide a place that is the next best thing to being able to live wild and free in the animal’s natural habitat when that, for whatever reason, is no longer an option.
The SWCC recently saved the life of an alpha female Mexican Gray Wolf, F1188, from New Mexico. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service had signed “an order to shoot the wolf, which was accused of killing too many cows, but rescinded the order…after SWCC stepped in. This is the first time since 2007 that the agency planned to kill a wolf because of predatory attacks on wildlife.” (The rancher who lost the cattle has been compensated).
The wolf was undoubtedly preying on these cows to help feed her family of four puppies. The puppies will remain with the pack, “as they will be cared for by their father” according to Linda Searles, Founder and Executive Director of SWCC. U.S. Fish and Wildlife agreed to allow SWCC to “provide permanent sanctuary” to the wolf, according to a press release by Patrick Impiccini.
The last “official count” shows that only 58 Mexican Gray Wolves remain in the wild, “making them one of the most endangered mammals in North America.” According to Impiccini, “SWCC is the only wildlife facility in Arizona capable of handling large mammals such as wolves, and serves as a holding facility for the USFWS’s Mexican Gray Wolf Recovery Program.”
“We’re happy we could find a solution to this situation, other than killing the animal, because there are so few of these wolves left,” says Searles. “We will continue to work with Fish and Wildlife through the Mexican Gray Wolf Recovery Program to maintain the species, which is an important part of our ecosystem and our Western heritage.”
According to Patrick Impiccini, the Nina Mason Pulliam Foundation will provide funds to construct an enclosure for the female wolf, but SWCC founder Linda Searles noted that SWCC needs donations to help it care for the animal. Like other wildlife at the sanctuary, the wolf will help educate children and other visitors to SWCC about the role different mammals play in our ecosystem and the importance of preserving endangered species.
In addition to saving this wolf from being destroyed, last summer, they rescued a leopard named Leonardo who was being kept at a “deplorable roadside zoo … where he was living in a small, filthy cage with little shelter and no privacy. When we first saw Leonardo he was near death, suffering from malnutrition and pneumonia.”
Although Leonardo has gained weight and bonded with his keepers at his new home at the SWCC, he has suffered some recent medical issues from being declawed as a cub. “The declawing procedure mangled his paws, leaving him unable to climb and jump to high places like leopards should. Recently, Leo started limping and we noticed drainage coming from a rear paw. Veterinarians examined Leo’s foot, took x-rays, and determined that it has become necrotic and infected. The declawing he suffered through as a cub has now led to the need for a surgical procedure.”
More recently, the sanctuary rescued a mule deer fawn that was brought to a fire station on the west side of Tucson. The fawn would have otherwise been euthanized. The person who brought the fawn in assumed she had been abandoned or orphaned because she was alone, which is a common misconception. Wild animals often leave their babies alone to hunt for food, and often the mother is nearby, but they do not hover over their babies the way we often suppose they would. Additionally, the Arizona Fish & Game website notes that
“*Because deer and elk can transmit chronic wasting disease, they should almost never be brought in from the wild.
“*If you have taken a young deer or elk from the wild, immediately take it back to exactly where you found it. Do NOT release it in a different location; its mother will not find it.”
The SWCC receives many, many baby birds and mammals each year that almost certainly were not really abandoned or orphaned. The SWCC also rescues and rehabilitates local injured wildlife, and their release rate is about 70%, so most of the animals they care for are able to be released to the wild. Others, such as the Mexican gray wolf and Leonardo, are not able to be released for a variety of reasons, and these animals are used in programs to educate children and visitors to the SWCC about the role of wildlife in our world.
To visit the SWCC, you will need to schedule a tour http://southwestwildlife.org/tours-scheduleTour.htm by calling the Education Department at 480-471-3621. To support the work of the SWCC, you can also make donations online http://southwestwildlife.org/donate-general.htm