Feb 16, 2019

Still on the trail

By Rebecca Dmytryk

Photo Credit Dianne Kimbler

WES is still in pursuit of two very sick animals. A male bobcat in Aromas, suffering from a severe case of mange likely attributed to exposure to rodenticides - essentially, it consumed a rat or mouse, gopher or ground squirrel that had eaten poison placed by a human. We are also tracking a female coyote in Gilroy, also suffering from severe mange. Her condition cannot be as definitively linked to poisons as the bobcat, but we are very confident tests would conclude exposure to rodenticides as they did with the poor coyote from Danville (pictured below).  

These animals are suffering, tremendously. 

As their health began to decline, they moved into urban areas looking for easier meals. Unfortunately, due to the continued rampant use of rodenticides, we can only imagine their "easy meals" would be slow, dying, poisoned rodents. 

WES has been tracking the Gilroy coyote for months, trying to pin down a pattern of travel in order to capture her. But, she is extremely smart and elusive.

We are grateful to all who have reported sightings in a timely matter to our pager 831-498-9453.

Currently, she has been frequenting a remote location where we could, potentially, treat her in the field, making certain she, and only she, receives the dose of medication for the mange. This requires authorization from the local state (California Department of Fish and Wildlife) biologist, whom we have contacted, requesting approval. 

The bobcat in Aromas is a "research cat", similar to the sick one we captured on January 22nd, HERE. This one is referred to as B28M. 

He was captured and collared in early June (2018) as part of an environmental study. He was in good health then, according to the research biologists. 

Sometime in the last 6 months or so, in his travels through the hills around Aromas and the Santa Cruz Mountains, B28M was exposed to something that compromised his immune system - rodenticides top the list of possible causes.

Our pursuit of B28M began on February 10, when we received a report of a sick bobcat that had just killed a chicken. Our attempts to capture him that day failed.

The next day, we found him in a meadow, but, again, we were unsuccessful.

With the help of the researchers who gave us the collar's frequency, we have an opportunity to try and track the cat using handheld radios, but it's been a real challenge. The collar's battery is extremely low - close to being dead and it's programmed to work only between the hours of 11 and 3 every day. That, and the cold rainy weather has likely forced the cat to seek shelter - but we have been searching. 

These animals need our help... they need your help...

Whether we are successful at capturing these two poor beings or not, you can prevent other wild predators from getting sick and dying, by committing to not use poisons that contain anticoagulants. Where you can, try and get others on board.

Join us in calling for a ban of rodenticides containing anticoagulants in the State of California. 

If you would like to help fund this particular campaign, please donate HERE or send a check to WES at P.O. Box 65 Moss Landing CA 95039 and write rodenticides in the memo section.

Thank you!!!

Feb 11, 2019

Owls in Schools

Barn owls are nocturnal raptors that prey mostly on small rodents - rats, mice, voles and gophers, moles, and, occasionally, small rabbits. 

A family of barn owls can consume more than 4,000 rodents in one season. That’s why they are used to control rodents on residential properties, farms and ranches, vineyards and agricultural fields - and school campuses.

Because barn owls maintain a home territory and do not migrate, an owl family that takes up residency on a property is likely to stay, making an owl nest box a good investment for natural and long-term rodent control.

In addition to controlling rodents on campus, resident barn owls can provide unique learning opportunities in various studies, like science, art, writing, even woodworking (designing and building nest boxes)

Adding a camera inside the nest box adds a whole new dimension to the learning experience. The live-streaming capabilities allows viewing of the owl family day and night.

Streaming can be kept on a private network or shared publicly on YouTube. 

When possible, students will get a chance to be involved in banding of the baby owls that are born on campus. 

WES is currently raising funds to install barn owl nest boxes with cameras at three local schools in the Monterey Bay Area - Rancho Cielo, Pajaro Valley High School, and Aromas School. 

We are holding a fundraising event at the Haute Enchilada Cafe February 21st to help raise the funds to cover purchase of the cameras. See the invitation, HERE.

Tickets are $20.00. There will be a presentation on barn owls and how to build a proper nest box, wonderful original pieces of barn owl-themed artwork to bid on, complimentary chips, salsa and guacamole and a no-host bar. 

One of the beautiful pieces donated for the auction.

If you are unable to attend but still wish to contribute to the Owls in Schools program, you can donate through GoFundMe, HERE, or PayPal, HERE.

Thank you for supporting this worthy endeavor!

Please contact us directly if you'd like to sponsor a school box. 

Jan 22, 2019

Go gentle into that good night dear cat

By Rebecca Dmytryk

Another dying bobcat, and there's a very good chance it's linked to an anticoagulant rodenticide, as research suggests.

This afternoon, WES' San Benito chapter was alerted of a sickly bobcat in rural Aromas. According to the reporting party, the cat crossed Anzar Road and disappeared into the brush, headed towards her neighbor's home. She described it as having two red ear tags - a research cat!

I have since learned she, known as B33F, was ear-tagged in June, 2018. At that time she was a healthy young bobcat.

Thankfully, the RP was kind enough to get us in touch with the neighbor and we received permission to search the property.

I arrived within 2 hours. Ascending the steep driveway in the rescue truck, I saw the cat. It was huddled in the grass, just off the pavement, in the last bit of sunlight. Its face had the classic dark features, confirming it was suffering from mange, which has been linked to anticoagulant rodenticides

Having been spotted by the cat, I drove passed it without slowing and parked about 25 yards away, out of sight. 

I walked back to assess the cat's condition - to see how it would respond - how quick it would notice my approach, if at all. This initial evaluation helps rescuers determine the method of capture.

The cat had disappeared! Had it gone through the barbed wire fence into the field of cattle or into the gulch, or was it close, hiding? Perhaps in the snaggly conifer or coyote bush?

I crossed through the barbed wire fence and as I was scanning the dry gulch basin, all of a sudden, a scrub jay alarmed right behind me in the conifer! 

Sure enough. There, at the base of the tree, sheltered under low hanging branches, was the bobcat.

SO small, so thin, so desperate.

Thankfully, it was still on the property where we had permission to work, and I needed to keep it on this side of the barbed wire. That meant any approach would need to be from the property line.

When preparing for a wildlife capture, rescuers use their knowledge of a species to predict the animal's response to pressure, or approach. What will be its direction of travel? For example, with stranded sea birds, we know they will head for the water, so we stage between the bird and the water. 

In Wildlife Search and Rescue we refer to this step as the Potential for Success, where you take into consideration all the things that could happen during the rescue, and build the best possible plan for a successful mission. No one gets hurt. The animal is not harmed any further, and, hopefully, no property is damaged. We've found the Coast Guard's Operational Risk Management exercises particularly helpful in planning for safety.  

So, in considering the animal and the landscape and the time of day and there being only one capturer - me, I thought to employ the help of my trained Kentucky Labrador, Angus. 

We approached the cat under the snaggly tree from downhill and at the property line, next to the barbed wire fence, hoping to drive it deeper into the property - maybe even into a tree.

Sure enough, the presence of the dog applied just enough incentive to get the cat to move from under the low branches and into a thicket of ceanothus and coyote bush. 

There, Angus kept watch while I gathered equipment.

Carrying a long-handled hoop net, I approached the cat. The dog circling the bush kept its attention. 

Finally, I was just feet away and had a fairly clean shot. As if chucking a spear, I jabbed the leading edge of my net down through the brush, lodging it just behind the cat, which predictably jumped backwards, away from me, and into the netting. 

Only one problem - the netting material was tangled in the stickery branches, preventing me from laying it flat. I had to get on the ground with the now growling and pissed off cat and slowing release the material, one section at a time, until there was enough slack to create a "bag" to hold the bobcat securely. 

Meanwhile, Angus watched patiently.

After struggling with the ceanothus branches for at least five minutes, I finally had the cat in the bag. I twisted the hoop so it could not escape. Truthfully, I don't think it had the strength to try.

The cat was in really bad shape. Alert, just enough to be able to strike and bite, but barely. It would die tonight, I was quite sure. 

None of the wildlife centers was open. Even if one had been, the most heroic efforts haven't been enough to save bobcats that are this far gone. It was just a matter of time.

Wanting its last hours to be as peaceful as possible, we placed the bobcat on a warming pad in an isolated area and periodically checked on its condition. 

We have good reason to believe this bobcat was exposed to poison from eating rodents that had consumed bait containing a second generation anticoagulant.

Because of the diligent, dedicated and thorough work by so many people over the last few decades, we have solid evidence that proves, at the very least, our wildlife is being contaminated by the widespread use of anticoagulant rodenticides, if not also establishing a link between these poisons and the death of predators like this bobcat. 

The mounting evidence - this cat included - should be enough to justify the ban of anticoagulants, but will it be?

This fight, is not new. In 2008, after many years in deliberation, the Environmental Protection Agency concluded through a risk evaluation that certain anticoagulants posed an "unreasonable risk" to children, pets and wildlife. The powerful pest control industry fought the EPA's decision, delaying cancellation of certain products. In 2013, California conducted its own analysis of anticoagulant rodenticides. Finally, as of April 2015, second generation anticoagulants are no longer sold over the counter in the united States, however, they are still widely used in the pest control industry. For the Industry, it's about money. Profit. 

But who feeds the Industry? We do. 

More pressure must be placed on end-users of these poisons. Restaurants, hotels, businesses - many are unaware of the impact the "little plastic boxes" have on our wildlife. They need to be informed and encouraged to switch to a safer product or means of controlling rodents.

A bit of good news - just recently, the California Department of Pesticide Regulation announced it would consider reevaluation of certain anticoagulants. A huge THANK YOU! to those who sent letters in support. 

We're looking forward to this reevaluation process. WES will be there on the front line, providing testimony as to the animals we have lost because of these poisons, and, my corporation will be countering claims by the industry that they don't have alternatives, when we know, for a fact, they do. 

Not long after her capture, the bobcat took her last breath.

At one point during the evening when we checked on her, she appeared to be unconscious - unaware, but running?

My mother described my grandfather's hand movements just before he died - he was unmistakably picking cotton. Some ingrained movement - something he never forgot. 

Giving way to tears (that come hard these days), I could only hope this cat's last dreams were of running in the wild wood. Go gently into that good night dear cat.

UPDATE: B33F's body was sent on Thursday January 24th to the State's Wildlife Investigations Lab to be necropsied and tested for rodenticide exposure. A huge thank you to the biologists and veterinarians and researchers at the Lab for their incredibly valuable work. 

UPDATE: Test results confirmed she was exposed to rodenticides from consuming poisoned rodents. Her liver showed 300 ppb of brodifacoum, 52 ppb of diphacinone and a trace amount of chlorophacinone. 

Exposure to the poisons compromised the cat's ability to hunt. She was severely emaciated and suffering from serous atrophy (gelatinous transformation).

These poisons are the new DDT. Silently killing our nations predator species. This has got to stop.

WES is a small all-volunteer-run nonprofit. If you would like to make a donation it would be very much appreciated.