We Do It for the Animals, but the People are the Key

I am sure that you all appreciate the irony that the need for us to “rescue” wildlife most often comes from human impact on the planet and our patients. And I think my bias, like many “wildlife” people, may be a bit in favor of animals vs. people in many situations. While I am not one to claim that I have a special relationship with wild animals, I do very much value the opportunities I have had to work closely with them and get to “know” them just a bit. Observing them in rehabilitation to monitor their progress as well as in the wild has helped me better understand their needs and care for them while in our charge. Having said that, there is little I enjoy more than meeting other rehabilitators – especially ones that come from far away places that have different species and different challenges.


Valentina with marine mammal herding board

What I enjoy most about oiled wildlife response and wildlife rehabilitation is that there are always new challenges, new ways to look at old challenges, and opportunities to learn different ways to overcome them. So I was especially pleased and excited to hear from an old friend named Sara Laborde last fall. Sara was the coordinator of the oiled wildlife program in Washington state many years ago, and I had the privilege to work with her in developing parts of that program. Sara was a rising star who moved from there up through the WA Department of Fish and Wildlife over the years until I lost track of her.  Recently, I found she was working for the Wild Salmon Center, an international conservation organization based in Portland, Oregon.

A few months ago I got an email from Sara saying that her program was hosting several Russian partners who were interested in learning about the oiled wildlife system during a brief layover in San Francisco before returning home. Of course, the OWCN team and I were excited to have an opportunity to meet with them and and learn more about oiled wildlife preparedness in Russia, as well as to show them San Francisco Bay Oiled Wildlife Care and Education Center and our mobile equipment in Davis. I was especially enthusiastic when I found out they were from Sakhalin Island, and had been involved in an oiled wildlife response just over a year ago.


Members of the NGO Boomerang collect oiled birds during a spill in Sakhalin Island, Russia

They arranged for a translator to make the most of our time together, and Kyra, Greg Frankfurter, and I (with International Bird Rescue’s Michelle Bellizzi and Isabel Luevano) arranged to meet the Mezentsevas in Cordelia. It turned out that I had actually met them a number years ago when they attended an IBR training that Barbara Callahan and I had done on behalf of Sakhalin Energy in Yuzhno, Sakhalin, a number of years ago. So for the next several hours we all talked about the OWCN; its partnerships with universities, NGOs, and governmental agencies; and the California oiled wildlife response system, and contrasted it to the system on Sakhalin. Their NGO, named Boomerang, is involved in a number conservation initiatives including marine mammal strandings, so Greg did double duty with his experience at The Marine Mammal Center and oiled mammal response.

For me it was particularly nice to hear how some of the plans we had work on had turned out. Both the things that worked as we envisioned as well as those that did not in their recent spill.


Russian visitors observing bird treatments by IBR Staff

By the end of our meeting it was well past dark and we all pledged to keep in touch and help where we could, exchanging information about equipment, supply sources and protocols. Once more I was reminded of what a small but dedicated community you and I can be very proud to be a part of.

Happy New Year



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