Volunteers learn wildlife care | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Volunteers learn wildlife care

Susan Wood
Dan Thrift/Tahoe Daily Tribune A Golden Eagle at Lake Tahoe Wildlife Care becomes the center of attention Sunday during the second day of volunteer training at the facility. Tom Millham, from LTWC, was showing the class the proper way of handling a large bird if they were asked to help.

About 40 people took part in Lake Tahoe Wildlife Care’s annual volunteer training sessions this weekend.

Like animals in need of rehabilitation, volunteers must be nurtured and weaned into doing specific tasks such as feeding techniques, first aid and transportation of injured or orphaned creatures.

Pam and Taylor Armstrong turned the training into a mother-daughter outing at the urging of the 11-year-old daughter’s friend, Madison Treiber. The youngster has volunteered for the Cherry Hills facility for five years.

“I wanted to work with wild animals, but you can’t touch them. I don’t want to imprint them,” Taylor said Sunday.

Mom explained that “imprint” was a new word they learned. It means to impress upon the young animal’s mind. Imprinting from sights, smells, and sounds during an animal’s young learning period causes certain behaviors for the rest of its life. That’s why touching or talking to a young animal could affect its ability to survive in the wild.

Each specific case must be evaluated.

How do you fight the temptation not to touch them when they’re so cute and cuddly?

“Hands on with babies can be a good thing. You realize that you infringe on the animal’s ability to survive after the juvenile stage,” said Shellie Schoppe, a three-year volunteer from Truckee who was feeding a 4-week-old chipmunk on her knee. With eyes barely cracked open, the chipmunk is one of five in the rehabilitation center.

“We don’t baby talk to them, and we don’t pet them. They’re not pets. It gets to the point where they say: ‘I’m a chipmunk, and you’re not,'” she said.

Varying circumstances bring volunteers to Lake Tahoe Wildlife Care.

Mary Hardy used a videotape to share her experience to a group at the center.

A couple of stellar jays decided to build a nest in her wreath hanging above her porch.

“You can see here one of the parents is screaming at me,” she said, pointing to the baby birds in the nest as the parent returns. “I stood back as I was afraid if I irritated the adults enough, they would leave the babies,” Hardy said.

And there lies one of the biggest misconceptions, Wildlife Care center co-operator Tom Millham explained.

Some people who encounter baby birds without their adults are either torn by leaving their scent on the birds or tempted to take them away because they appear abandoned.

But the mother can be expected to return in four to six hours to feed her young.

“The mom’s will to care for her babies is far greater than your smell. The mom will take care of it,” he said.

Veterinarian Kevin Willitts agreed. He was on hand as one of the presenters for the volunteer training.

“They’ve done such an incredible job in this wildlife care program,” said first-time volunteer Janice O’Connor. The South Lake Tahoe woman joined a table full of other first-timers for lunch.

Volunteer Monica Sciuto said she wanted to give back to the community. Sciuto learned on Sunday that tree dwelling birds will sometimes end up on the ground. When that happens, it’s best to sometimes step back and observe nature’s nesting process.

Participants also got an up-close-and-personal view of an injured, 2-year-old golden eagle, which was brought in last year.

The world of wildlife rehabilitation evolves every day. Just this last weekend, Lake Tahoe Wildlife Care took in two great horned owls.

– Susan Wood can be reached at (530) 542-8009 or via e-mail at swood@tahoedailytribune.com

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