Throwback Thursday: An Unusual Sea Otter Study

By Tom Batter, WIL Scientific Aid

Happy Throwback Thursday loyal readers!  Today we highlight an article describing an experimental approach by DFG to help curb losses to the abalone industry.  The experiment called for DFG to partner with commercial fisherman to supplement feed to the sea otter populations off the coasts of Monterey and San Luis Obispo counties.  The goal in mind was to make the sea otter’s southern migration unnecessary to help boost abalone production.  Quite an interesting approach that, to this author’s knowledge, was ineffective.  This excerpted page originally appeared in the 1967 November-December issue of Outdoor California.


Two Bears Walk Into a Bar…

By Tom Batter, WIL Scientific Aid

An opening line like the title above is usually followed with some kind of a punch line.  Unfortunately you will find no joke here; two black bear cubs were recently confiscated from a local Kern County drinking establishment.  The presumably orphaned cubs came and went from the bar for about 8 weeks, where they were fed and played with by patrons, before the matter was brought to CDFW wildlife officer’s attention. As it is illegal to feed bears in the state of California, not to mention both human and wildlife health and welfare were at risk, the cubs were brought to the WIL for temporary housing and care.

The black bear cubs enjoy an afternoon nap in the hammock. (Photo courtesy J. Sherman)

The black bear cubs enjoy some R&R in their hammock. (Photo courtesy J. Sherman)

There was some hope that the cubs could be rehabilitated and released in accordance with department guidelines.  However, upon arrival at the WIL it was clear that these bears were far too habituated to humans.  After being evaluated by wildlife professionals, it was decided that these bears will have to be housed in captivity for the remainder of their lives.

It would be remiss of the WIL if we did not (again) direct our reader’s attention to the “Keep Me Wild” campaign.  Although it has become somewhat of a reoccurring theme on our blog, it is important to remember that California’s wildlife belongs in the wild. Although the folks feeding these cubs may have thought they were helping, the reality is that these cubs have been permanently habituated to people and will have to live a life in captivity.

The WIL has partnered with a high quality facility – the Houston Zoo in Houston, TX – to place both siblings together.  Upon their debut in their new enclosure last month, visitors watched as the cubs attempted a daring escape!  Zoo officials were able to safely and securely return them to their enclosure.  Leave it to California bear cubs to mess with Texas!

Remember: do not feed wild animals and do not handle wild animals; this endangers you and harms the wildlife as well.  Click here for steps to take should you come across nuisance, dangerous, or injured wildlife.

Confiscated Badger Finds a Home

By Tom Batter, WIL Scientific Aid

Quite recently, the WIL became a recipient of a new guest in our temporary animal holding facility: a bouncing, bright-eyed American badger (Taxidea taxus).  This particular mustelid arrived due to an unfortunate circumstance, but one that is all too common.  The badger was found as a kit, and then was harbored at a residence and kept as an exotic pet.  Upon receipt of a tip, CDFW wildlife officers confiscated the badger and brought it to the WIL for temporary housing until a more permanent solution could be reached.

American badgers are prolific diggers.  Here the badger can be seen "digging" a relaxing moment in our hammock. (Photo credit: Deana Clifford, WIL)

American badgers are prolific diggers. Here the badger can be seen “digging” a relaxing moment in the WIL hammock. (Photo credit: Deana Clifford, WIL)

Upon arrival at the WIL, it was clear that this badger was very habituated to humans thus rehabilitation and release were not an acceptable option. While not as ideal as if this badger had remained a wild animal without human interference, the WIL was able to find a permanent licensed facility that will offer professional care, nutrition, mental, and physical activity to ensure the badger’s well-being.

Although it is illegal to import, transport or possess any wild animals in the state of California, some may not recognize the reasoning as to why these laws and regulations are in place.

One of the main principles of the North American Model for Wildlife Management is that fish and wildlife belong equally to all.  Personally possessing wild animals violates this basic principle.  Furthermore, there are many risks to both humans and animals when wildlife are taken in and kept as “pets.”  These risks include:

  • Public safety: By their nature wild animals are unpredictable. They can unexpectedly bite, scratch, attack, etc. when put in a highly stressful environment such as captivity. Often wild animals that seem docile when young, will become dangerous as they grow up.  This captive situation will ultimately end up endangering owners, their family, friends and neighbors.
  • Habituation: When animals become used to situations they would otherwise avoid (i.e. human contact) they become habituated and reliant on humans for their survival.  A habituated animal cannot be returned to the wild as they could become a nuisance or danger to humans, jeopardizing the animal’s safety in return.
  • Disease: Wildlife can carry diseases dangerous to humans.  Since it is illegal to possess wild animals, it is more than likely they will lack any vaccination history. This only increases the chances of zoonotic transmission.
  • Animal welfare: Providing proper care for wildlife requires extensive knowledge of the life history of the species, as well as an extensive time investment to fully meet that animal’s needs.  Wildlife possess instincts and behaviors that are tied into a free-roaming state without human contact.  Residential homes cannot nurture instincts and stimulate natural behaviors that wildlife need to live a healthy life.  When CDFW finds illegally kept wildlife they are often malnourished and kept in unsanitary and sometimes inhumane conditions.  When captivity is unavoidable, it is best to leave captive wildlife care to appropriately permitted professionals, who have the knowledge and resources to properly care for the animal.

If you are aware of a situation where a wild animal is being illegally possessed, please contact CalTIP 24 hours, 7 days a week at:

1 888 DFG-CALTIP (888 334-2258)

California to Host Desert Bighorn Council Meeting in 2015

Desert bighorn ewe and lamb

Desert bighorn ewe and lamb
photo by T. Glenner

California will be the host of the 2015 Desert Bighorn Council Meeting. The meeting will take place in Borrego Springs, California in April 2015.  This biennial meeting brings together wildlife biologists, scientists, administrators, managers, and others interested in the welfare of desert bighorn from the seven western states (Texas, New Mexico, Colorado, Arizona, Nevada, Utah and California) to exchange information, present research and take action on matters pertaining to desert bighorn management.

The Council Chair for the 2015 meeting is Dr. Ben Gonzales, Senior Wildlife Veterinarian at the Wildlife Investigations Lab. The Program Chair is Steve Torres, Environmental Program Manager at the Wildlife Investigations Lab. Mark Jorgensen, former Superintendent of Anza Borrego Desert State Park will serve as Local Arrangements Chair.

For more information of the Desert Bighorn Council, please see:

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!

Keep Them Wild: A Real Life Example

by Tom Batter, WIL Scientific Aid

Earlier this month, the Wildlife Investigations Lab (WIL) received a call from a landowner near Placerville regarding a resident mule deer (Odocoileus hemionus) that frequented his property.  The landowner said the deer, an adult female, was wrapped in some kind of wire that was restricting her ability to walk.

WIL Veterinarian Dr. Ben Gonzales decided we should take action. Another scientific aid, David Mollel, and I gathered wildlife restraint equipment and the three of us departed headquarters.

We arrived at the property to find a deer that was significantly constrained in both her front and hind leg by a twisted tomato cage.  Her two fawns stayed close

Dr. Ben Gonzales helps keep the deer cool post-capture by applying water from a hose. Chemically immobilized animals can lose thermoregulation ability after being darted – it is therefore important to keep animals cool or warm depending on the surrounding temperature.

by her side while she struggled to walk and browse on vegetation.  Dr. Gonzales determined the best option would be to chemically immobilize the doe via dart projector. This would allow us to safely remove the wire from the deer while also limiting the amount of stress on the animal.

After Dr. Gonzales successfully darted the deer, we followed her movement until the drugs took complete effect.  After a few minutes, we loaded her onto a carrier and brought her into a flat shady area near a pile of firewood.  The tomato cage was quickly and effortlessly removed from her legs.  Our work was not done however.

Sci Aid David Mollel prepares to administer the reversal agent while Dr. Ben Gonzales and I continue to monitor the deer.

Each time an animal is chemically immobilized, it is essential to follow protocol to ensure the safety and well-being of the animal during post-capture.  These steps include opening the airway, monitoring heart and respiratory rate, protecting the eyes and assessing thermoregulatory ability.

The doe was given a reversal agent (which prevents the immobilizing drug from applying its action), was able to recover from the capture and walk off with her two fawns.

This event is a classic case of human-wildlife conflict.  Greater than half of California is considered deer habitat.  People have been moving out and settling in deer habitat for many years.  When human and wildlife populations overlap, it increases the likelihood of interaction between people and wild animals.  While this can be great for wildlife viewing from your back porch, it can negatively affect wildlife by making unnatural food and shelter available to them.  In this case, the deer got into someone’s garden, most likely causing property damage, and became restrained by a mess of tangled wire.

Situations like this are preventable.  The Department of Fish and Game has plenty of tips and information through our Keep Me Wild campaign.  Keep Me Wild is a program dedicated to educating the public on how to prevent wildlife – such as deer, black bears, mountain lions, and coyotes among others – from accessing human food sources.

CDFG also offers tips on how to keep deer out of your garden with The Gardener’s Guide to Preventing Deer Damage, as well as a list of available products that help keep wildlife away from human food sources.

By following these tips, we can hopefully ensure that California’s wildlife remain how nature intended them to be: wild!