WildCare -- April 2011 eNewsletter
table of contents
taxing questions – income by the (wildlife patient) numbers
As tax time approaches, many of us are involved in reviewing our profits and losses from 2010. At WildCare, we’ve just finished producing our annual report, where we summarize all aspects of our organization including required reports to the California Department of Fish & Game. So here’s a report on our income last year – 3,528 incoming patients, that is, and the descriptions from their finders of how they brought them to us!
Animals in the wild live and die by their own rhythms; one animal’s death often means another animal’s survival. Not surprisingly, wild animals don’t turn themselves in for treatment! Those that come to WildCare have been involved, in some way, with a person. One way to look at the effects we have on wildlife is to look at what injuries bring animals into our Wildlife Hospital. Here is a look at what comes through our doors, although not necessarily the diagnoses, which can only be determined later.
grounded and approachable
The largest percentage of intakes (15%) are flying animals -- birds and bats -- that are brought in by people who found them on the ground. A flighted animal that doesn’t fly certainly has some sort of a problem, but with no apparent injury or illness, we record the reason for admittance as “Grounded.” Adult mammals that show no apparent injury or illness are admitted simply because they were “Approachable,” another bad sign. Even juvenile animals that come up to people are probably in trouble.
The finder’s report provides vital clues in many cases, but only after a bird or bat has been examined thoroughly and carefully are we sometimes able to determine why a particular wild animal, one that should have been terrified at being captured, allowed itself to be picked up and brought to WildCare. With the finder’s history as a beginning, lab tests, radiographs, time and experience help us discover what the problem is.
caught by something
Cats are now the most popular pet in the U.S., so it isn’t surprising that the next largest percentage of animals admitted (13%) last year were birds, mammals and reptiles that were “Caught by Cat.” Now the most abundant carnivore in North America, cats that roam freely outdoors, or become stray or feral, bring dire consequences for wildlife.
Fledgling birds may spend several days on the ground before they figure out how to fly upward. (Down is easy, it turns out!) It is especially sad to think how hard the parent birds worked to feed this baby, only to have it killed or injured by a well-fed pet. Even adult animals that are caught by cats need treatment, because the often invisible puncture wounds heal over quickly, but bacteria remains inside the muscle tissue and becomes infected, creating abscesses.
Dogs, other wild animals and humans catch wildlife, too. In 2010 8% of the animals admitted were caught by something other than a cat. Statistical categories are “Caught by Dog”, “Caught by Wild Animal,” and "Kidnapped.” Animals caught by dogs suffer injuries from being crushed by jaws or paws; those caught by another wild animal present a dilemma. If a wild predator captures wild prey it’s a meal; and we shouldn’t interfere. But many of the wild animal attacks on each other involve territory disputes. Wild animals rarely fight to kill each other as the loser will usually make a hasty retreat, and the winner doesn’t hold a grudge once the intruder has left. But injuries can be severe enough to either or both to cause enough damage to allow a person to capture the injured animal.
This brings us to another “caught-by” occurrence. Many species (especially deer and rabbits, but many others too) leave their babies for periods of time, sometimes only returning briefly to nurse and check on them. If these babies are found by well-meaning people who think they have been abandoned, they have actually been “Kidnapped”. We ask well-meaning rescuers to put these babies back!
Baby animals represent our hospital's largest number of intakes in the spring, and probably account for 50% of the animals we admit all year long. Babies lost or orphaned account for 13%. They may also be injured from a fall from a nest (another 10%), and some (5%) are brought into care because the tree they were living in was cut or trimmed.
These young ones are in care for a long time because, while an injured adult animal can be returned to its territory when an injury has healed, baby animals can’t be released until they are old enough to care for themselves. For squirrels that age is 12 to 14 weeks; for raccoons, 17 to 22 weeks – five to six months! Is it any wonder we work so hard to try to keep baby animals with their own mothers? Much of our preventive work in the early spring involves educating people about orphaned wild babies and the dangers of tree trimming and kidnapping. These casualties are preventable!
Animals admitted with unidentified injuries (10%) come to WildCare at all times of the year, but more so in summer when people are spending more time outside. Patients with identifiable injuries (5%) include many that have been trapped in a structure, such as a chimney, fence or wall. Other injuries are the result of an animal being stuck or tangled in a man-made object such as string, oil or garden netting. About 5% have obviously been hit by vehicle, or have hit a window (3.5%)
Some are brought in because they have been caught and injured in traps intended for other species. Glue traps (1%) are particularly injurious because not only do they kill small animals inhumanely — a long process of skin, fur or feather injuries as they struggle, followed by a slow death of dehydration or starvation — but they also attract many non-target species. Even flypaper outdoors injures bats that are attracted to the captured insects that appear to be an easy meal.
Obviously sick animals (4%) represent a smaller number of patients, because when a wild animal actually exhibits signs of sickness it is generally already close to death. A captured sick animal has gone beyond merely “Approachable” and may have given up on life. Illnesses can turn out to be anything from bacterial infections resulting from injuries or viral infections such as distemper in carnivores or West Nile Virus in corvids. Recently we have seen more tumors and cancers to be the cause of wildlife illnesses.
The percentage of obviously sick animals includes about 1% that are known to have been poisoned. This number is misleading however, because the number of poisoned patients diagnosed on intake is lower than the number found later to be affected by some kind of poison. Many of the animals that are admitted as “Approachable” turn out to be carrying some level to toxins when tested. These patients simply recover as the poisons are flushed with fluid therapy and clean food. This is most concerning, because the level of toxins carried by wildlife are an indication of what is in the environment we all share. This is an important message we want people to know about. It is also preventable, and WildCare’s advocacy programs work to raise awareness of toxins in our environment.
living with lions
by Zara McDonald and JoLynn Taylor
For many people, it can be unsettling to realize that the beautiful wildlands we so enjoy around the Bay Area also serve as habitat for Mountain Lions (also called pumas or cougars). After all, the Mountain Lion is a fierce killer that can eat a human for dinner without a second thought, right? Well, not exactly. The last time someone was killed by a Mountain Lion in the Bay Area was over 100 years ago, and it wasn’t as a meal (a bite from a lion resulted in rabies, although in modern times rabies is not a concern for Mountain Lion populations). Mountain Lions are all around us – if we were on their menu, a lot more of us would end up as lunch.
WildCare's Education Director, Juan-Carlos Solis serves on the Education Board of the Bay Area Puma Project, the first long-term cooperative research, education and conservation program on Mountain Lions in the Bay Area. Dedicated to changing the negative perception of Mountain Lions, this small group of conservationists and researchers is working hard to get the word out that the Mountain Lion is far from being a danger -- frequent or infrequent -- to humans. On the contrary, it is a majestic animal that plays a critical role at the top of the food chain – the keystone species in our local ecosystems – and its presence in the habitat is essential for maintaining the health and balance of the wildlands we so enjoy.
tracking their paw prints
The Bay Area Puma Project originated as a partnership between ecology researchers at the University of California Santa Cruz and conservationists at Felidae Conservation Fund, a Marin-based nonprofit dedicated to advancing wild cat conservation around the globe. “We started this project because rapid human development in the region is threatening the very existence of healthy puma populations, and if we lose them, the health of our environment will go into decline,” says Zara McDonald, Felidae’s Executive Director. “We urgently need to change this course, and find healthy ways for humans to co-exist with pumas, and all wildlife.”
In the Santa Cruz Mountains, the Puma Project has already fitted 21 cats with tracking collars, including four puma kittens. The Project plans to expand the research to the East Bay in 2012 and the North Bay in 2014. One of the most pioneering aspects of the project is the addition of accelerometers (like those found in the latest video game controllers) to the high-tech GPS puma collars. These give the research team the ability to study literally every footstep and behavior of these highly athletic animals. The data is providing unprecedented insights into the way pumas interact with their environment, including the manmade environment.
racing against the clock
To help people understand these incredible creatures and replace myths with facts, the Puma Project incorporates its research into innovative public outreach programs. “As we become more advanced in our research techniques, we need to tie the research back to strong community education and build public support for sustainable conservation, while there’s still time to make a difference” says McDonald, who gives frequent presentations at Bay Area community organizations, scientific institutions and many local schools.
Changing public perception takes time, and time is not a luxury the current situation allows. Every year in California, about 100 pumas are legally killed on depredation permits after they have preyed upon livestock or pets, and upwards of 50 pumas a year are killed by cars while trying to cross roads. Another major cause of puma mortality, illegal poaching, is hard to measure, but may be even more significant than road kill. By comparison, public safety events, where a puma is put down due to concern for human safety, are extremely rare, numbering only about three per year throughout the state. With all these threats to California’s pumas on the rise, as well as ongoing land development causing rapid habitat loss and fragmentation, McDonald and her team have good reason to be in a hurry.
losing our fear to glimpse their world
To get the word out as quickly as possible, the team is using every tool available. A documentary film, currently in pre-production, will communicate the urgency of the situation in an edgy, provocative format. On the scientific side, a multi-agency project has just been launched to build a detailed map of habitat suitability for pumas throughout the state. In the online world, the team is launching a new video game that lets the player act as a puma trying to stay alive on the modern-day landscape. And in the real world, the team is taking middle and high school students out to the research area to learn first-hand what the biologists are doing. More information about all of this, as well as a list of McDonald’s upcoming talks, can be found at Felidae’s website: www.FelidaeFund.org.
So what does all this mean for someone who loves exploring the wild spaces, but is feeling increasingly nervous about growing numbers of reported puma sightings in the area? One thing to remember is that according to the California Department of Fish and Game, 85 - 90% of all puma sightings are mistaken. Add to that the statistic that you are 150 times more likely to be killed in a collision with a deer than to find yourself staring down a puma from six inches away, and you can start to see the concern from a more balanced perspective.
meeting face to face
Still, Mountain Lions are wild animals, so there is some risk. Appropriate precautions are wise: avoid hiking alone between dusk and dawn; never approach an animal carcass; and keep small children nearby and in front of you. And in the highly unlikely event that you encounter a puma, don’t run away – stand your ground, act big, make noise and fight if needed. A complete listing of puma-related tips are offered by the Felidae Conservation Fund, the California Department of Fish and Game and the Mountain Lion Foundation.
And finally, McDonald’s own experience coming face to face with a mountain lion in the Marin Headlands can provide some food for thought, “Yes, I was terrified, but I also felt a compelling sense of awe and humility as I experienced this striking and powerful creature that rarely lets itself be seen by humans.” After a few seconds, the puma calmly walked away into the underbrush, leaving McDonald transformed, and reeling from such an extraordinary gift. Within a few years, she formed Felidae and co-founded the Puma Project – both being in some sense her way of passing on that gift.
People sometimes call WildCare with reports of adult deer that are injured or in distress. If the deer is so badly injured that it cannot escape, Marin Humane Society officers may be able to come out to humanely euthanize it. However, if the deer can escape from someone trying to help, it will. In this case, chase and capture is not only nearly impossible, but only adds to the harm done to the animal.
Capture myopathy is the name of that harm, and it is one of the reasons wildlife rehabilitators’ licenses prohibit us from attempting to treat adult deer. Now, some doctors are looking at capture myopathy and asking if it might also affect people.
what is it?
Capture myopathy is a syndrome of acute or chronic degradation of muscle tissue resulting from stressful activity such as pursuit, capture or handling of a susceptible animal. Also called exertional myopathy, it is a condition that is characterized by damage to the muscles from an increased production of lactic acid when oxygen is depleted and anaerobic metabolism occurs. Exertional myopathy can occur without exercise, too. Capture myopathy can occur both during physical and chemical (tranquilizer) restraint. It occurs in most animals, but especially in ungulates like deer and bison, and prey animals like rabbits. It has been reported in birds, notably cranes and waterfowl, and even in fish.
In the fall of 2000 Dr. John Berezowski of the Western College of Veterinary Medicine in Saskatoon, Canada sent out a survey to identify what diseases affect the deer industry in Canada and the United States. The study found that mortality due to capture myopathy was 6% among fawns, 12.5% among yearlings and 20.6% among adults.
Fear and anxiety, excessive body heat and too much adrenaline will result in capture myopathy. There are four categories: peracute, acute, subacute and chronic. Other than prevention, there is no treatment.
Peracute capture myopathy: death may occur in a matter of minutes due to low blood pH, acidosis, potassium release from damaged muscles and heart failure. There are few post-mortem signs.
capture myopathy and people
Dr. Barbara Natterson-Horowitz is the Director of Imaging for the UCLA Cardiac Arrhythmia Center, the Associate Professor of Medicine at the David Geffen School of Medicine, and the cardiovascular consultant to the Los Angeles Zoo. Dr. Natterson Horowitz lectures frequently on One Health and the advancements in clinical care through collaborations between MDs and DVMs.
Speaking at the Wildlife and Aquatic Animal Medicine Club of the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine in February, Dr. Natterson-Horowitz discussed capture myopathy and it’s relevance to people. This clinical phenomenon, known to veterinarians for decades, may help shed light on human syndromes such as the recently-identified Tako Tsubo Cardiomyopathy – in which restraint (such as hospital restraints), terror and fear of impending death can cause chemical responses in the heart. She went on to describe many other disorders that affect both people and other animals. In 2012, Knopf will publish Dr. Natterson Horowitz and Kathryn Bowers’ book, Zoobiquity: A Species-Spanning Approach to Medicine.
It is clear that there are many things we can learn from wildlife.
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The California Quail (Callipepla californica) is our state bird, but ironically, (or maybe iconically) the more the human population of California grows, the more these appealing little birds are being pushed to the margins.
Because quail are game birds, much more research has been done on them by wildlife managers than on other species of less interest to hunters. The North American model of wildlife management tends to focus on game species, and carefully monitors the health of their populations. The good news is that these wildlife managers are highly motivated to protect game species, and a 100-page Western Quail Management Plan has been developed to protect these birds. The better news is that California Quail management turns out to be extremely habitat related, and that is good for many other wildlife species too.
food and shelter
California Quail do not fly well, so they require a balance of cover and food plants to thrive. Cover is needed for roosting, resting, nesting, escaping from predators and protection from the weather. Creating habitat corridors and the right mix of plants that offer benefits to quail both improve biodiversity for other animals.
The diet of the California Quail is very flexible, and they are adaptable in their eating habits. Quail eat seeds, fruits, blossoms and leaves of many kinds of plants including Northern California natives like ceanothus, ribes, honeysuckles, lupines, clover, native sages and many more.
In the spring, young quail need lots of insects, but by about three months of age, they eat much the same diet as the adults. An adult quail's spring diet is about 6% insects and a high proportion (35%) of tender green leaves and legumes.
If startled, these birds explode into short rapid flight called flushing, but given a choice, they prefer to make their escape on foot. Predation is a problem for birds that don’t fly well, so species like quail compensate by producing large clutches of chicks. Mortality for quail chicks is about 70%, and an average-sized brood is about 11 babies. With these odds, a quail pair will be lucky to raise four chicks to adulthood. In favorable years, a pair may raise two broods.
Quail are part of the diet of hawks, bobcats, coyotes and weasels, but nest predation is a more significant survival risk factor for birds that nest on the ground. Ground squirrels, skunks, foxes and jays eat the eggs and young, but in the suburbs, and in urban parks where quail coveys' movements are restricted, feral and free-ranging cats can completely extirpate a group.
Quail populations also depend upon weather patterns. In Northern California, the amount of rainfall from September through April and the amount of moisture in the soil in late April when they lay their eggs are important factors in reproductive success. Higher rainfall in the most arid regions of their range will often result in a larger number of nests. However, wet, cold springs in the cooler regions can hinder reproductive success.
California Quail are generally monogamous. Coveys tend to break up in March when males display aggressive behavior toward each other, and pairs form within about two months. The nest is a shallow scrape lined with vegetation on the ground under a shrub or other cover.
Once hatched, the young quail associate with both adults. Often, families group together, into multifamily “communal broods” which include at least two females, multiple males and many offspring. Interestingly, males associated with families are not always the genetic fathers. In good years, females will lay more than one clutch, leaving the hatched young with the associated male, and laying a new clutch, often with a different associated male.
Look for quail on hikes and in your own backyard! These little birds, with their distinctive top-knots and large family groups are wonderful members of California's wildlife community.
View a short video of California Quail and learn more about these beautiful birds from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology Macaulay Library.
Hear how they sound at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology Macaulay Library. Listen for the distinctive “chi-ca-go” call about two minutes in.
Download the 100-page Western Quail Management Plan.
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