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Dirty Jobs: Straight poop on wildlife care

Sunday, February 3rd, 2013 | Posted by

Animal care technician Amber Carvalho freshens the water for the two resident raccoons at the Sonoma County Wildlife Refuge in Petaluma. (Photos by ALVIN JORNADA / The Press Democrat)


Amber Carvalho knows a few things about poop. It’s a daily part of her job as an animal technician at the Sonoma County Wildlife Rescue Center in Petaluma.

“We have to collect and sort our mountain lion and coyote poop because we sell it in little quart bags to the public,” said Carvalho, 21. The bags of poop, called “predator scent,” are used to scare off raccoons and prevent other pests from tearing up local gardens.

Carvalho, a Santa Rosa resident, started working at the center last summer. A student at Santa Rosa Junior College, Carvalho hopes to transfer to CSU-Monterey Bay to major in marine biology in the fall. Her interest in animals began as a young girl.

“I’ve always been interested in animals, and I’ve been a competitive horseback rider for over 13 years,” she said. Mucking the stalls of her horse, Paddington, may have prepared her for the dozens of cages and habitats she freshens during the week.

“We clean all of the enclosures and den houses, (and) basically it’s just urine-soaked, poopinfested straw,” said Carvalho.

The center is home to a variety of rehabilitating animals, some of which are unable to return to the wild due to illness or disability. Mountain lions, coyotes, foxes, wolf “hybrids,” raccoons, hawks, squirrels, bobcats and even otters reside at the center.

“We’ll get a call that there’s injured, sick or orphaned wildlife, so we’ll either send out a volunteer or the public will bring the animal to us,” said Carvalho.

Injured animals can sometimes be the dirtiest part of the job. A raccoon once came in with a compound fracture.

“The bone was just sticking out completely, and his flesh was rotting,” said Carvalho. “It smelled like death — the maggots were just oozing out of him.”

Summertime also brings similar cases.

“You get a lot of animals who are hit by cars, and they’re on the side of the road for a little while,” said Janet Hohn, the center’s education outreach assistant. “It’s so hot, and there are so many flies that you end up with a lot of maggots. It’s really gross.”

Providing care for the injured animals also causes some extra clean up. “When animals get stressed out they just pee everywhere,” said Carvalho.

Along with medical care, preparing each animal’s diet is an integral part of staff duties at the center. It is not one for the faint of heart.

“We make all the diets for the animals, so we have to cut up mice, rats and chicks,” said Carvalho. “If an animal is really emaciated, we’ll have to skin the mice and rats because we want to make sure they don’t have to use any extra energy to digest the skin and fur.”

Kuma and Kyla, the resident mountain lions, also have dietary needs.

“We have a special relationship with Animal Control, so when they have to put down a deer that’s been hit by a car or who has a broken leg, they bring it to us and we feed it to our mountain lions,” said Hohn, 25.

While it is illegal to rehabilitate mountain lions, the rescue center received a special permit for the animals because they are evidence in a poaching case. The alleged poachers tortured the two then-cubs and killed their mother.

Carvalho and her coworkers have a chopping block to slice up deer for Kuma and Kyla’s dinner.

“It can look like (Texas) Chainsaw Massacre around here,” said Carvalho. The deer is stored in several outdoor freezers, large enough to accommodate deer yet to be dismembered.

“When I open the freezer, I sometimes forget that there’s a whole deer in there, so it’s like a surprise when you see one with its tongue all hanging out,” said Carvalho.

Despite the blood, guts, poop, urine, compound fractures, deer chopping and den-mucking, Carvalho and Hohn enjoy their work. Both have plans to remain involved in the wildlife field.

Hohn serves as a tour guide to school groups, showing the animals in their habitat enclosures and giving presentations on the wildlife. After graduation, Carvalho is interested in pursuing a career in marine mammal conservation.

“It’s definitely dirty, but my favorite part is releasing the animals after they’ve been rehabbed,” said Carvalho. “There’s no better feeling than helping an animal go back to the wild to live its life.”

  • Mary Michela

    I so appreciate the work these folks do on behalf of the animals. And the predator poop works! I did it two springs in a row in my backyard, and the racoons have stopped tearing up my yard! If you can, give more than the amount they ask for per bag to help with their fundraising efforts! A big thank you to everyone at SoCo Wildlife Rescue!

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