2013 PFIG Recipient Sarah Hooper

Career Administrator

Sarah Hooper
College of Arts & Sciences
Biology and Music Major
2015 Gradutaion Year

Internship: California Wildlife Center

Notes on the first week

Wow, this has been such a wonderful first week! On June 12th I started a wildlife rehabilitation internship at the California Wildlife Center (CWC), a nonprofit organization dedicated to medical care, rehabilitation and release of injured and orphaned native California wildlife. The CWC consists of two main buildings: the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) and the Baby Care Unit (BCU) along with numerous outdoor enclosures where animals are temporarily housed during their rehabilitation. In my first week, I have been able to help in all of these areas.

Twice daily in the kitchen located beside the ICU, diets are prepared for the animals at the CWC. Diets consist of a variety of ingredients specific to each animal’s nutritional needs. It has been interesting to see the differences between the ingredients that different species receive. I have prepared and taken diets to a variety of animals including birds, opossums and even skunks! Some animals, receiving more intensive care, must be tube-fed special formula. These less stable animals are housed directly in the intensive care unit and require constant monitoring. So far, I have tube-fed many different kinds of birds and have hand-fed both a young screech owl and red-tailed hawk. I have also learned to give subcutaneous fluid injections to dehydrated birds.

The Baby Care Unit houses only baby and young birds. All birds in the BCU are kept separate in enclosures ranging from baskets and incubators to sterilite containers and mesh reptariums. Hand-feeding all of the birds is the main task in the BCU. Depending on how developed the birds are, they may require feeding every thirty minutes, every 45 minutes, every hour or every 2 hours. Timers, which keep track of these feedings, constantly sound and are reset throughout the day. It is amazing how frequently and how much these little birds can eat! Most of the birds in the BCU are fed a combination of live mealworms or other bugs and special formula. It has been interesting to learn about both the dietary needs and care of each species. For example, some birds (like mockingbirds) self-regulate and will stop eating when they are full. Others, like finches do not self-regulate and are only fed a very specific amount at each feeding. Finches are also particularly prone to bacterial infections if formula is spilled on their feathers. Therefore, extra care must be taken to keep finches clean when feeding them. Another interesting fact I have learned is that jays are never happy when housed alone. Because of this, a mirror is always placed in enclosures holding only one jay. These small but significant differences in the way each species of bird is handled ensures their well-being and best chance at survival.

I have learned so much in this first week and am so happy with what I am doing! One of the best parts about this internship is that I am welcome to work anytime. Although I am specifically scheduled for 40 hours of work per week, I have been staying late and going in on my days off because I realize that this is such an incredible learning opportunity. It is my hope that by the end of this summer I will: 1) be able to identify some of the many bird species living at the CWC without looking at their charts, 2) have attended and hopefully participated in at least one release, 3) have learned many medical techniques and gained a deeper understanding of wildlife care and rehabilitation and lastly, but quite importantly, 4)have avoided getting sprayed by the skunks resident at the California Wildlife Center!


I cannot believe that half of my internship at the California Wildlife Center (CWC) is now over. Time has passed so quickly. Over the past five weeks I have had the opportunity to work with phenomenal people while learning a wealth of information about wildlife. Although I have now become more comfortable working in both ICU and BCU, every day presents new challenges and learning opportunities. If I were to write about all of the exciting and cool experiences I have had so far, this post would be extremely lengthy. Therefore, I will share a few of the many, many highlights of the past five weeks: new intakes, late night calls, marine mammals and necropsies.

One of my favorite parts of the internship so far is dealing with new animal intakes. Almost all of the animals we receive (with the exception of most pelagic birds and marine mammals) are brought to the CWC by members of the public. Upon arrival, each animal is examined and treatments are administered as appropriate.  Recently I learned how to perform intake exams on birds. A typical intake exam involves taking an animal’s temperature, visually looking for obvious injuries and feeling for swelling, fractures or other abnormalities. Depending on the species and condition, blood is sometimes drawn to run total protein and packed cell volume analysis. Thus far, I have had the opportunity to examine several birds including a pelican, several cormorants, a great egret and a crow. It was especially interesting to examine the great egret and discover a compound ulnar fracture because it was the first time I had ever felt a broken bone in an animal. The crow exam was also very exciting because after multiple failed attempts at drawing blood from other birds, I finally was successful at drawing blood from this crow! Daily intakes are very enjoyable for me because I love the fact that we never know what type of animal will show up next. It is nice to interact with the public during these intakes because often they ask questions about the CWC or the rehab process and we are able to share more about what we do. I also enjoy intakes because they present great learning opportunities and allow for further practice with techniques like drawing blood, calculating medication, subcutaneous fluid injections and tubings.

While most intakes occur between the hours of 8am and 6pm daily, sometimes emergencies arise or special cases are called in that require late night exams. Recently I was able to accompany the veterinarian and another staff member on an after hours call to rescue a fawn around 9:30 at night. Although the vet had already returned home for the evening, he came back to the Center to respond to this call. After loading a crate, medication and towels into the CWC rescue vehicle, we were off to the site. It was very interesting to experience a rescue and watch the vet examine the fawn after we returned back to the Center. Blood was drawn and the fawn was set up with an IV drip overnight so that x-rays could be taken in the morning. Upon further examination, the vet determined that the fawn had a dislocated hip as the result of being hit by a car. Although it was late at night, I really enjoyed going on the fawn rescue and watching the exam. I can only hope that I show the same amount of dedication and care in my future career that the staff shows here at the CWC.

Although my internship technically only deals with terrestrial and avian wildlife, I have also taken the opportunity to learn more about marine wildlife on my days off. For the past several Sundays, I have been working with the CWC marine mammal team to rehabilitate two elephant seals. It has been so interesting to learn more about the elephant seals and to see what goes into the rehabilitation and care for very large marine mammals. For example, I think one of the most interesting things about elephant seals are their front flippers. They actually have five digits which bend and move strikingly similarly to human hands. On Friday, the two elephant seals were released back to the wild and no other marine mammals have been received for rehabilitation since. However, I was able to take the marine mammal rescue training last Sunday which allows volunteers to participate in marine rescue call response. It was interesting to learn more about the marine mammals that are found in Southern California and the characteristics of each. It was also interesting to learn about how an animal’s condition is evaluated and about the equipment used for rescues. Since I went through the training, I was recently asked to restrain a sea lion for tubing that came in late one evening. It was such a fascinating experience. Because sea lions are relatively large, they are restrained by straddling their bodies between your legs so that your knees are in front of the flippers and your legs control the body of the sea lion. Your hands are then used to control the sea lion’s head. After the tubing, the sea lion was put in a crate for the night and was transferred to another rehabilitation facility the next morning.

Along with learning more about marine mammals on my days off, I have also had the opportunity to watch two marine animal necropsies over the past five weeks. Although quite graphic, they have been so interesting to watch. Marine animals that beach themselves and die or die before they reach the Center are often necropsied and samples of their tissues are sent off for study to determine why they died. So far I have seen a necropsy of a sea lion (different sea lion than the one I restrained) and a dolphin. While both were very interesting, the dolphin necropsy was especially amazing to watch. I never knew that dolphin’s internal organs are so massive. Many different samples of tissues were taken from the dolphin and sent off for histopathology. The results will hopefully point to why this particular dolphin beached and can be used in future studies to better understand strandings in general.

I believe I wrote this in my last post, but I absolutely love what I am doing and I am having such an incredible experience. So many interesting opportunities have arisen over the past five weeks and I have learned so much in this short amount of time. From doing intakes and listening to the concerns of people bringing in injured animals, to working with great volunteers, to restraining hawks, to breathing for a pigeon while it was under anesthesia for surgery, to working with pelicans and marine mammals, to watching necropsies...I can't imagine anything I would rather be doing with my summer. I am also happy to say I am making progress with the goals set forth in my previous post. I am becoming slightly better at identifying bird species that come into the Center. In addition, I was able to attend the release of the elephant seals which was a very happy moment. I am glad to report that I have not been sprayed by a skunk yet, however I did stumble upon a very large rattlesnake several days ago which was probably equally as startling. Along with learning new things, this internship has helped me realize that I thoroughly enjoy and hope to work in a nonprofit area in the future. It is very rewarding to know that I am providing a beneficial service to both animals and the public.

Final Reflections

On Friday I concluded my internship at the California Wildlife Center by tube-feeding a juvenile female pelican. While it was sad realizing it was the last animal I would interact with at the Wildlife Center, pelicans have become my favorite bird...so in my opinion, it was a great way to “end” my experience. I have put the word “end” in quotations here intentionally because I know the impact this experience has had on me will never end. My final post follows.

In previous posts I have talked mainly about my experiences in the ICU/hospital and BCU at the California Wildlife Center. While I spent the majority of my internship working in these two main buildings on the property, on several occasions I had the chance to work alongside the staff veterinarian in the CWC surgery trailer. Working with the vet directly allowed me to learn firsthand what being a wildlife veterinarian entails.

While helping the vet, I had the chance to learn and practice multiple things such as how to breathe for birds while they are under anesthesia. Although I had the opportunity to breathe for a pigeon several weeks into my internship, initially it was a very stressful experience. However, after breathing for a pelican and Canada goose later in my internship, I became more comfortable and the task became more routine. My experiences with the vet were always very interesting; every case was different and I never knew what to expect when he asked if I wanted to help. This constantly changing environment was something I really enjoyed.

In addition to learning while working directly with the veterinarian, the vet also held talks focusing on wildlife medicine. Although the lectures were mainly for his two externs, interns were welcome to listen in the evening or other times when we were not busy working. I tried to attend as many of these lectures as I could. His talks were quite informative and covered a variety of topics including what different drugs are used for in wildlife medicine, methods of fracture stabilization and anesthesia. Listening to these lectures was a neat glimpse into what I might learn in veterinary school and a great complement to what I was learning hands-on at the Center.

While medical treatment of injured and orphaned wildlife occurs in the early stages of an animal’s stay at the center, as injuries heal the focus switches to moving animals to outdoor enclosures to prepare them for release back to the wild. The approach to care at this point becomes more hands off and most of the interaction with the animals is just placing and removing diets in their respective enclosures. It was fun to see animals grow throughout the internship but one of the most rewarding aspects of this type of work presented itself when I was able to release an opossum and a group of doves. Whenever an animal is brought to the center, the address of where it was found is recorded. That way, when the time comes for eventual release, the animal can be released back to the same vicinity. Both the opossum and the doves had come in as babies or juveniles just as I started my internship. Not only did I witness them grow but it was nice to know that I aided in the process. It was very gratifying when my roommate (also a CWC intern) and I released the opossum one evening towards the end of our internship. We released the doves the following day.

Over the past 10 weeks as a CWC intern, I have grown personally in ways that I could have never imagined at the outset of this experience. I have learned many techniques and much information that I know I will use in my future career and have had the joy of practicing and applying this knowledge to cases at the Wildlife Center. In talking with the staff, I was also able to learn more about the paths they took to develop their careers in wildlife rescue, treatment and rehabilitation, opening my eyes to new and interesting areas of study. As a bonus, I learned how to live on my own away from home since I have spent most of my life in Charlottesville, VA. I now feel more confident, slightly less shy and exceedingly ready to embrace new adventures and opportunities.

In returning home and back to school, I realize how much I miss my shirts being splattered with evidence of the work I have done that day (bird formula, dirt, etc. ...honestly!). I realize how much I miss waking up in the morning and walking downstairs to open the baby care unit or help in the ICU. There was not a day during my internship that I did not want to be there. Although this experience has ended, it has propelled me forward with even more determination and purpose in my studies and in life, in general. I know that working with animals is where I will ultimately end up and I am very excited for what the future holds in that respect.

And now, I would like to conclude with some notes of thanks. I am so grateful to the California Wildlife Center for taking me as an intern this past summer. The staff, volunteers and animals that I worked with were absolutely wonderful. I do not feel like I can put into words how much I enjoyed this experience and how much impact it has had on defining my future career aspirations. I am extremely grateful to the Parents Fund at UVA and the generous funding given through the Parents Fund Internship Grant for making this incredible opportunity possible. Thank you very much!