Busiest year in decades for wildlife rescue center

February 4, 2013 7:16:32 PM PST
A Lake Tahoe wildlife center is having one of its busiest years ever. Animals in need have been arriving nearly non-stop for weeks.

The people who run the center are doing their best to keep up -- they've got some great success stories -- but the center needs a new home.

At Lake Tahoe Wildlife Care, run by Cheryl and Tom Millham, a sick bobcat recently arrived, and there's a great horned owl recovering from a broken wing. The owl had surgery and now the challenge is to keep him calm and discourage him from flapping his wing while it mends.

"We are giving every single one of these birds and animals a second chance at life," says Tom Millham.

The wildlife center is actually part of the Millham's home. Their garage is packed with food for the animals, the backyard filled with cabins built for a wide range of creatures, from river otters to bald eagles.

One of those creatures is an eagle whose right wing is dragging lower than the left. The vet believes the eagle's wing is just bruised so all he needs is a few weeks to heal in a safe place.

The wildlife center has a record number of orphaned bear cubs this season. On one day, there are 10 here. They're all healthy and will be released in a safe place as soon as they're big enough.

"Every single bird and animal that comes in here has one goal and that's to be released back into the wild," says Tom Millham.

A baby bobcat brought in last summer is one of thousands of animals the Millhams have cared for over the last 35 years. At first, they learned from experienced wildlife rehabbers. Now they teach others to do it.

"I am a nurse by profession which helps," says Cheryl Millham. "Not only do you have to feed them properly, build them up, you have to know where's the best place to release them."

The Millhams get help from volunteers, but it still costs about $120,000 a year to run the center -- paid for with private donations.

When they first moved to the area there was hardly anyone here. Now a neighborhood has grown up around them so their non-profit organization is trying to raise enough money to move to a larger sanctuary where they can help more wild animals and educate the public.

Sue Novasel, Lake Tahoe Wildlife Care vice president, says: "We feel it's just incredibly important, not just for our locals, but for our tourists when they come in to get that education, to be able to see these animals."

That would mean more happy endings for animals like a peregrine falcon with a hurt wing that was recently released back into the wild after resting for a few months at the center.

"We've released 14,000 animals back into wild. This one was really special. He just did exactly what we were hoping he would do and that's fly and just keep flying because that's what they love to do," Tom Millham says.

"If I had wings, I'd fly too," Cheryl adds with a laugh.

Constant fundraising is required to feed and care for the animals and to build the new sanctuary. Those interested in volunteering or donating can contact the center at 530-577-CARE (2273) or visit their website.

Written and produced by Jennifer Olney.


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