Deer Rescued from Canal and Released

A doe and a buck found themselves in need of some assistance in getting out of a canal  in Rancho Cordova on Tuesday, October 9, 2018.  Personnel from Sacramento Metropolitan Fire, Bureau of Reclamation, California Fish and Wildlife North Central Region and the Wildlife Investigations Laboratory all contributed their expertise and resources to rescue and release the deer.  Both deer were safely  released at Lake Natoma.  Below are pictures of the rescue and release.




Carr burn bear returns to the wild

In early August, CDFW personnel rescued a young female black bear near Whiskeytown in Shasta County. The bear had severe burns to all four of her paws as a result of the Carr wildfire. Following her rescue, the 1.5-year-old bear spent just over one month recovering at the Wildlife Investigations Laboratory where she received tilapia fish skin treatments and other therapies to assist with healing. The recovery was deemed successful – all four paws re-epithelialized, regained function, and the bear put on a significant amount of weight – and she was released back into the wild in mid-September. Due to challenges with placing a collar on a still-growing wild animal, the WIL turned to an international company, GPS Collars Ltd., for an alternative tracking device: the EarTraX V2 GPS/GSM/UHF wildlife telemetry ear tag ( In addition to being less obtrusive than a collar, the solar-powered unit will utilize existing cellular networks to transmit the bear’s location. The data collected will provide CDFW with valuable insight into bear behavior and landscape usage in post-wildfire areas


Multi-agency Effort to Rescue Deer From Canal

A doe and her fawn found themselves in need of some assistance in getting out of a canal near the bridge on Hazel Avenue in Rancho Cordova on Monday, December 15.  Personnel from Sacramento Metropolitan Fire, Bureau of Reclamation, Kindred Spirits Fawn Rescue, California Fish and Wildlife North Central Region and the Wildlife Investigations Laboratory all contributed their expertise to ensure the best outcome for the deer.  The doe and fawn were safely captured and then released at Lake Natoma.  Below are pictures of the rescue.

Doe and fawn trapped in canal.

Doe and fawn trapped in canal.


Sacramento Metropolitan Fire rescuing doe from the canal

Sacramento Metropolitan Fire rescuing doe from the canal

California Department of Fish and Wildlife personnel blindfolding the doe to reduce  stress to the animal and hobbling the doe so she won't hurt herself or others

California Department of Fish and Wildlife personnel blindfolding the doe to reduce stress to the animal and hobbling her so she won’t hurt herself or others


Dr. Ben Gonzales from California Fish and Wildlife releasing the fawn after rescue.

Dr. Ben Gonzales from California Fish and Wildlife releasing the fawn after rescue.


Steps towards restoring an endangered species (Part I)

[*Note from the lab’s Dr. Deana Clifford:  Wev’e been a bit quiet for a while, but not because we’ve disappeared.   We are re happy to start back up again with a 3 part special series updating everyone about our exciting multi-agency/academia/NGO effort to save the critically endangered Amargosa vole. Stay tuned-more posts coming from our activities including voles, fishers, and bighorn sheep!]

By Austin Roy (CDFW WIL Scientific Aid) & Anna Rivera (CDFW Volunteer)

Austin Roy (Scientific Aid) at Site 1 in July 2014.  Notice the degraded bulrush habitat on the right and only moderately healthy bulrush on the left.

Austin Roy at Site 1 in July 2014. Notice the degraded brown bulrush habitat on the right and only moderately healthy bulrush on the left. Photo by Risa Pesapane

Captive breeding can sometimes be an effective conservation method in the toolbox available to wildlife managers. It’s often employed as a last resort when other conservation efforts have not succeeded.  Wild-caught animals are brought into a captive environment and mated for the purpose of increasing the species’ numbers and/or to create an insurance population in case the wild population goes extinct.    Captive breeding programs have helped in recovery efforts for  several endangered species including the California condor, black-footed ferret, island fox, and peregrine falcon.

Our research team from CDFW and UC Davis have been monitoring the population of the endangered Amargosa vole (Microtus californicus scirpensis). In July, we observed that the habitat of the marsh where most remaining voles live was rapidly degrading.  At the same time, vole numbers were rapidly increasing as part of a normal birth pulse cycle.  The shrinking marsh was not going to be able to support the number of voles being born so we consulted with our collaborators in the Amargosa vole working group (the US Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Land Management, US Geological Survey, and UC Berkeley) and brought 20 young voles (that would have likely died in the wild) into captivity to try to establish an insurance population of voles.

Amanda Poulsen (UC Davis Grad Student) placing voles in indoor quarantine cages upon arrival at UC Davis.

Amanda Poulsen (UC Davis Graduate Student) places voles in indoor quarantine cages upon arrival at UC Davis. Photo by Austin Roy

Ten males and 10 females were brought to UC Davis and placed into indoor quarantine in late July 2014.   Individuals underwent disease and genetic testing to decide which individuals would be paired for mating.  After quarantine, voles were placed into pairs for mating.

In October, we successfully weaned our first litter of Amargosa vole pups!  This is the first step to expanding the captive population to the point when animals can begin to be released into the wild to supplement the wild population.  The voles are currently being housed indoors, but we are in the process of creating outdoor pens for the voles where they will experience conditions more closely resembling their natural marsh environment.

While a small step has been made towards the recovery of this endangered species and the path forward remains long, our team remains committed to saving the Amargosa vole.

Click on the links below to read about the Amargosa vole captive breeding program and see more pictures:

Scientists work to save endangered desert mammal – CDFW & UC Davis Press Release

Bouncing Baby Voles Bring New Hope for One of North America’s Most Endangered Mammals – BLM NewsBytes

A California Native Receives a Warm Welcome in Arizona

If you ever find yourself in Tucson, Arizona, stop by the Arizona-Sonoran Desert Museum (ASDM) and say hi to a California native … mountain lion that is. The zoo recently took in a wayward mountain lion cub that had been orphaned this past March.

This young California native is the new mascot of the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum (ASDM) and is looking for a name. Information for the naming contest can be found by clicking here. Photo credit: Rhonda Spencer, ASDM.

This young California native is the new mascot of the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum (ASDM) and is looking for a name. Information for the naming contest can be found by visitng the ASDM home page. Photo credit: Rhonda Spencer, ASDM.

Malnourished and emaciated, this cub found itself in a precarious situation – hiding among bushes in a residential backyard in San Jose. The homeowner contacted local authorities including wildlife officers from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW). With the assistance of the San Jose Police Department, local animal control, and Wildlife Emergency Services (WES), CDFW successfully captured the cub and transported him to the Wildlife Center of Silicon Valley (WCSV), where the lion was sedated and examined. Although the cub was bright, alert and responsive at the time of capture, he was very dehydrated and in poor body condition (emaciated), weighing only 15 pounds. He also had a severe flea and tick infestation.  WCSV volunteers gave the cub fluids, applied flea control, and moved him to a secured area to rest overnight until the cub could be transported to CDFW’s Wildlife Investigation Laboratory (WIL) in Rancho Cordova for further evaluation and medical care by a state wildlife veterinarian.

Once at WIL, the cub received additional treatments that included fluids, antibiotics, a dewormer, and tick treatment. Further diagnostic testing was performed including a complete blood panel, feline leukemia/feline immunodeficiency virus test, and fecal exam. Although his blood work was normal and the disease testing was negative, the cub would continue to be closely monitored by WIL veterinarians and staff over the next few weeks for signs of illness. While it is common for female mountain lions to briefly leave their young while they hunt, the severity of this cub’s emaciation led wildlife professionals to suspect that this cub had been orphaned. As to why he was orphaned was uncertain – it is possible that his mother was killed, but he could have also been abandoned due to ailing health.

The Wildlife Investigations Laboratory (WIL) provides safe, temporary placement of wildlife that has been confiscated, orpahned or injured animals, or "nuissance" animals. We are not a rehab facility and it is not our goal to remove otherwise healthy individuals from the wild - unless an extreme situation requires the permanent captivity of an individual. Once in a while animals come to our veterinarians in need of serious medical care. Our veterinarians must decide what is ethical and humane. For this young lion, he was emaciated and starving but otherwise healthy.

Although the Wildlife Investigations Laboratory (WIL) is not a rehabilitation facility, occasionally WIL has to intervene in wildlife animal welfare conflicts. Our devoted team of wildlife veterinarians, biologists and WIL administrative staff assist to provide safe, temporary placement for “wayward wildlife.” For some wildlife in need of serious medical care, our veterinarians must decide what is ethical and humane with regards to their treatment and recovery. It is illegal to rehabilitate and release mountain lions in California, and our veterinarians knew that with treatment this young lion would make a full recovery, so we contacted the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum (ASDM) – one of the nation’s leading outdoor-living museums.

Over the course of three weeks, WIL staff carefully reintroduced the emaciated cub to appropriate foods and, with the help of the Folsom Zoo, designed a balanced diet that would satisfy the nutritional needs for the growing cub. To keep the cub physically active, a variety of toys were introduced to encourage the cub’s curiosity and to give him lots of opportunities for play. It is during this course of time that WIL staff searched for a suitable facility that the cub could call home. It is currently illegal to rehabilitate mountain lions in California and thus it is our responsibility at WIL to find sanctuary placement for all confiscated and non-releasable mountain lions in appropriate permitted wildlife facilities. For this reason, WIL keeps in contact with zoos and nature centers all over the country that may have an interest in helping the department take animals that are in need of placement. This is how our little lion cub came to find a welcoming home at the ASDM.

Knowing ASDM’s strong commitment to wildlife conservation and their desire to help a non-releasable wild mountain lion in need of placement, it was an easy decision to call  and ask them if they were interested.  WIL knew this little mountain lion cub would have a large, beautiful natural enclosure to live in with plenty of good care.  WIL also knew that this mountain lion would capture the attention of the thousands of people who visited the ASDM and become the ambassador for the species country wide.

Mountain lion cub (Puma concolor). Photo courtesy Deana Clifford

Mountain lion cub (Puma concolor). Photo courtesy Deana Clifford

Once the cub was deemed healthy enough to travel and approvals for his placement were granted by both state wildlife agencies, the cub was transported by WIL staff to Blythe, California. The cub was transferred over to Arizona-Sonoran Desert staff early in the morning on April 15, 2013.

WIL would sincerely like to thank all of those involved in the safe capture and care of this mountain lion cub on March 9, 2013. We would also like to thank the Sacramento Zoo for providing frozen treats and vaccines and the Folsom Zoo for all of their assistance in creating a nutritionally balanced diet. Lastly, we would like to extend our gratitude to the ASDM for the wonderful care and welcome they have given this cub – updates and the official ASDM Press Release can be found by following the link.

Catch & Release: When to Decide if Medical Intervention is Needed During Wildlife Captures

By Jaime Rudd, WIL Scientific Aid

The Living Desert Zoo publishes an online magazine, FoxPaws. In article 7, issue 2 the zoo writes about an injured desert kit fox that WIL brought into their care last winter.

The Living Desert Zoo publishes an online magazine, FoxPaws. In article 7, issue 2 the zoo writes about an injured desert kit fox that WIL brought into their care last winter.

Studying wildlife on nature’s terms can be difficult. Not only can the weather and topography be uncooperative, but the study species can pose challenges as well. One challenge is deciding if intervention is necessary and appropriate if an animal is found sick or injured.

Here at the Wildlife Investigations Laboratory (WIL), we have veterinarians who can help make decisions regarding wild animal care. Deana Clifford, WIL’s non-game veterinarian, is also an epidemiologist and field biologist. With her diverse background in field studies and wildlife medicine, she is able to make important decisions while in the field or here at WIL. However, like many field biologists, she finds herself in remote areas far from home. In these situations, we rely upon local wildlife rehabilitation facilities for their time and care.

The Tennity Wildlife Hospital and Conservation Center at the Living Desert Zoo in Palm Desert has partnered with WIL to provide medical treatment for sick or injured desert kit foxes (Vulpes macrotis). The desert kit fox disease monitoring project is ongoing and began in January of 2012 in response to a canine distemper outbreak that occurred at a solar development site in eastern Riverside County. During our January 2012 capture effort, an adult male desert kit fox was suspected to have a broken jaw. The decision for intervention was made by Dr. Clifford, who quickly weighed many factors to decide if the risk associated with temporarily taking this fox out of the wild was mitigated by the benefit that would be gained from treatment.  Key considerations for her decision making included: Was the injury significant enough to affect the fox’s chance of continued survival? Could the cause of the injury be associated with our trapping efforts? Could the injury be fixed allowing the fox to return to normal?

Since this injury could definitely affect the fox’s ability to catch prey and potentially was repairable, we transported the fox to the Living Desert Zoo to confirm whether or not the jaw was broken, and if so, examine options for repair.  Living Desert veterinarian Dr. Kevin Leiske consulted Dr. Yee, a veterinary dentist at Veterinary Dental Specialists, and a treatment plan was set up to care for the young male with the intent to release him back into the wild. After approximately 7 weeks of care, the fox’s jaw had healed. Before release, zoo staff made sure that the fox was able hunt and eat whole prey. In March 2012 he was fitted with a radio collar and then taken back to the site where he was originally captured (under state department regulations, all wild mammals must be released within 3 miles of where they were found).

Not long after release, the fox’s collar went “off-air” and biologists were unable to track him. Despite an extensive ground search by California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW, formerly Fish and Game),  biological monitors at the solar site, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), and volunteers, we did not find the fox. In October 2012, CDFW took to the sky to listen for his signal, but again was unable to successfully locate this one fox.

In January 2013, our concerns were finally laid to rest when we recaptured this male fox! His jaw is a little bit crooked but he was in good body condition and weight — clearly surviving and doing well back in the wild. We also discovered that his collar had simply malfunctioned and was no longer working.  We then removed the collar and sent this fox back on his way to continue thriving in the wild.

After WIL biologists discovered that the radio collar on this desert kit fox was no longer working, it was removed. Upon his release, he shows his gratitude by offering a unique photo opportunity as he rolls around! Photo courtesy of Deana Clifford.

After WIL biologists discovered that the radio collar on this desert kit fox was no longer working, it was removed. Upon his release, he offered a unique photo opportunity as he rolled around on the sand – not far from biologists! Photo courtesy of Deana Clifford.

There is always a risk when an animal has to be removed from the wild, even if it’s just for a few hours or days. Biologists understand this risk and must consider the benefits, if any, to the animal. Knowing the life-history and behavior of the study species is extremely important during the decision-making process.  In this case, a young otherwise healthy male desert kit fox was found to have a potentially life-threatening injury that could be treated with minimal human contact. If we treated his injury and successfully healed the fracture, we felt that his probability of survival was much greater than if we knowingly released him with a broken jaw.

A healed and healthy desert kit fox was recaptured a year after he was found with a broken jaw. While his lower canines protrude a bit, he was in good weight and body condition. Photo courtesy of Deana Clifford.

A healed and healthy desert kit fox was recaptured this winter, one year after he was found with a broken jaw. Trained wildlife biologists are able to use physical restraint rather than chemical immobilization during desert kit fox physical exams. This allows us to quickly conduct exams and take samples without the use of drugs. In this photo CDFW volunteer biologist Teri Baker gently holds the fox while WIL veterinarian Deana Clifford  documents his uniquely new physical feature – slightly protruding lower canines.  This male fox was found to be in good weight and physical condition at the time of recapture. Photo courtesy of Deana Clifford.

WIL would like to sincerely thank Dr. Kevin Leiske, Saldy Portacio, and the rest of the wonderful staff at Living Desert Zoo for generously giving their time and providing care  to the desert kit foxes and other desert wildlife. To read more about how the Living Desert cared for this desert kit fox, go to page 4 of FoxPaws Magazine.

PLEASE NOTE: Only state and federally permitted individuals or organizations can lawfully rehabilitate wildlife. California Code of Regulations section 679 specifically addresses wildlife rehabilitation and has incorporated The Minimum Standards for Wildlife Rehabilitation written by the International Wildlife Rehabilitation Council (IWRC) and the National Wildlife Rehabilitators Association (NWRA). To learn more about the permitting process, please follow the link.

Wildlife rehabilitation is a broad and complex field and it is continually evolving and progressing. Continued education is a critical factor when it comes to maintaining a professional knowledge-base at rehabilitation facilities. Because of this, the CDFW requires that all wildlife rehabilitation personnel (professional and volunteer) satisfactorily complete one approved wildlife rehabilitation training session each year. The minimum for these sessions is 2 hours.

Click here for more information on wildlife welfare and rehabilitation and for a complete list of wildlife rehabilitation facilities in California.

Story of Two Mountain Lion Cubs

Mountain lions 'Kuma' and 'Kyla' at Sonoma County Wildlife Rescue

Mountain lions ‘Kuma’ and ‘Kyla’ at Sonoma County Wildlife Rescue
Photo Credit: Sonoma County Wildlife Rescue

Four years ago, the Wildlife Investigations Lab was involved in caring for two mountain lion cubs that had been victims of abuse at the hands of poachers.  Now that the prosecution of the poachers has concluded, their story can be told. Many wonderful groups and individuals have been involved in this case, from the care of these lions to the legal prosecution of the offenders. Please follow the links below for their story details.

Caring for Kuma and Kyla, a permanent home – Sonoma County Wildlife Rescue

Caring for the cubs and pursuing the poachers –  Department of Fish and Game Report

Prosecuting the poachers – Napa Deputy District Attorney’s Report

Farewell to WIL Cub

by WIL Scientific Aids, Tom Batter & Jaime Rudd

Since July, the Wildlife Investigations Lab (WIL) has been caring for a black bear cub that had been stricken with mange, ringworm and bacterial skin infections. Although she still has some patches of thin hair and scarring on her back from the severe wounds she incurred, she has made wonderful progress and is almost fully recovered.

As her stay at WIL comes to an end, her next adventure begins at the Gladys Porter Zoo in Brownsville, Texas. While we are sad to see her go, we know her new caretakers will be excellent guardians. You can learn more about her and how she came to the WIL by following the link. To catch her playing in her pool (and attacking an artichoke) click here.

Here are some photographs where you can track the progress of her recovery:

Week 5

Week 7

Weel 8. Photo courtesy of WIL volunteer Jamie Sherman.

Week 10

Week 12

Week 15

HaPpY HaLlOwEeN!

All of us at the Wildlife Investigations Lab would like to wish you and your family a safe and happy Halloween!

Do you recognize this little bear cub enjoying a Halloween treat? It may be difficult considering she has a beautiful, thick coat of hair growing in! Click here to read about her  amazing recovery.

Keep Them Wild: Part II

By Tom Batter, WIL Scientific Aid

A few weeks ago we published a blog post about the rescuing of a doe wrapped in a tomato cage and how it was a prime example of human-wildlife conflict.  Sure enough, it wasn’t long before the DFG North Central Region personnel and WIL were called upon again to help another deer residing close to human residences.

A mule deer buck, complete with hammock.

A concerned citizen located near El Dorado Hills reached out to Fish and Game through email.  He told us of a local buck that had a hammock enveloping his left antler, causing the buck to use up energy in a hopeless attempt at removing it on his own.  A team was sent out to assess the situation and determine the most appropriate action to take.

North Central Region staff Ed Andrews, Shelly Blair, and WIL Scientific Aid David Mollel monitor the deer as they prepare to administer the reversal agent.

Given the circumstances –a suburban environment and an unapproachable deer – WIL veterinarian Dr. Ben Gonzales and North Central Region Senior Environmental Scientist Jason Holley felt it was best to chemically immobilize the buck using a dart projector, much like the last rescue involving the doe and the wire.  The buck was successfully darted, and chemical immobilization protocol was followed.  It was decided that the best solution for this particular buck was to remove the antlers completely, relieving him of the attached hammock in the process.  The benefits of removing the antlers include the quick removal process, limitation of stress on the animal, and prevention of re-entanglement.

The buck walking off post-capture, feeling a little lighter.

Ultimately this may cost the buck a chance at breeding this mating season.  Antlers are used to compete directly with other males through both fighting and display.  Does are more likely to choose mates that are dominant and exhibit quality antlers.  However, antlers are shed once the breeding season is complete – anywhere from mid-January to mid-April.  The playing field will be level again, and this buck will be able to grow a new quality spread, free of the hammock ornament.  Plus, this deer is unlikely to become the target of any hunters looking for a new trophy this season.

Thanks to vigilance from the general public, the Department of Fish and Game is able to respond to wildlife issues that may otherwise go unnoticed.  Wildlife is abundant in California, and human-wildlife conflicts will continue to occur.  At times it can be a bit unclear who you should contact in case you come across nuisance, dangerous, or injured wildlife.  Local cases are typically handled by regional offices. Contact information can be found here.  DFG also provides plenty of information on living with wildlife here.

Special thanks to  North Central Region staff Jason Holley, Shelly Blair, Ed Andrews, and WIL staff Dr. Ben Gonzales and David Mollel for their hard work and dedication!