As wildfires ravage parts of the state, pushing wild animals out of their natural habitats, the Southwest Wildlife Conservation Center is experiencing an influx of injured, displaced, and orphaned wild animals at its refuge and rehabilitation center.
And with such a large increase in orphaned and displaced animals, the northern Scottsdale nonprofit organization needs the public’s support.
“We are currently seeking donations to purchase a temperature-controlled container building designed to house the overflow of incoming animals,” said Linda Searles, founder and executive director.
So far this year, the center has taken in more than 120 orphaned animals.
Combine these animals with the more than 300 wild animals the center already hosts — including bears, coyotes, skunks, mountain lions, raccoons, and wolves — and you’re looking at an already overwhelmed facility.
Among its rescue is a coyote puppy displaced by a fire in the Cave Creek area. “He is doing fine,” Searles said. “He has sore paws and was very dehydrated but is doing well now.”
SWCC also rescued a juvenile javelina but it died from smoke inhalation.
“When it comes to wildfires, those that can outrun the fire will survive, and those that can’t will parish,” Searles explained. “There are usually few animals to be rescued after the fires; they either escape or die. Those that have moved out of the fires’ way now have to find new habitat in order to survive.”
Some fires, including those in the Tonto National Forest and Cave Creek areas, occurred during spring baby season. The center rescued more than 80 baby coyotes, foxes, bobcats and raccoons.
“We have not seen a slowdown in intakes, in either orphans or adult animals,” Searles said.
“Some of this is from the fires causing wildlife to lose their habitat due to fires, causing them to move into unfamiliar areas. This causes them to cross roads, often being hit by cars, and move long distances in unfamiliar territory trying to find food and water,” she continued.
After fires are contained, center staff heads into impacted areas to check for animals in distress. “After they clear the area, they will let us go back in to check for animals that were left behind,” Searles said.
Last year, SWCC released 71 percent of surviving wildlife that arrived at their doors.
And while they have released adult animals this year – including three bear cubs, five herds of javalina, a coyote, bobcats, a skunk, a gray fox, a porcupine and raccoons – the orphans that arrived this spring are too young to be released yet.
“Releases are timed to each species’ normal dispersal age, which starts in the fall. Those that came in sick or injured will be held back until they have completely recovered,” Searles explained.
Orphans start in the center’s veterinary hospital, where they’re assessed by medical staff and kept in incubators.
They’re fed around the clock and even given stuffed animals that have a heartbeat device replicating their moms.
“Once they have progressed to solid food and eating on their own, they go into enclosures with their new foster parents, who will raise them and keep them wild,” Searles added.
Not all of the animals SWCC takes in can be successfully released, because their injuries are too debilitating or because they’ve been imprinted or habituated to humans. These animals then become permanent residents and live out their lives at their sanctuary.
“It’s a difficult task, caring for so many animals, but with your help, we can save many lives, one at a time,” the center states.
In addition to monetary donations to purchase the aforementioned temp-controlled container, the center needs volunteers and donated items, including enrichment toys for the animals.
Its Amazon wish list includes dog food, shade fabric, peanut butter to help disguise medications for their black bears, animal treats, canned pumpkin for javelina babies, and cleaning supplies, like bleach and paper towels and other items.
Visit southwestwildlife.org to donate money and to view the wish list.