By Katherine Montana
Meeting an animal native to California in its own environment is a treasured experience for many people, including myself. My introduction to the diversity of California wildlife came in a field course I took as an undergraduate student at UC Berkeley—IB104 Natural History of the Vertebrates. On weekly field trips to regional parks around the Bay Area, through the lenses of my binoculars, I got to know the birds flying above, flitting in the leaf litter, and riding the waves of the San Francisco Bay. I met frogs, salamanders, lizards, and snakes hopping, crawling, and slithering across logs and rocks. Small mammals like voles and deer mice squealed in protest—and sometimes defecated—as I quickly tried to measure the lengths of their feet and ears before setting them gently back into the coyote brush.
These respectful, informed encounters with a variety of vertebrates set the tone for my relationship with animals other than ourselves. I became more observant, appreciative, and humble wandering among these creatures of all stripes, feathers, scales, and pellages. Beyond appearance, there is an astounding diversity of lifestyles, ecological niches, behaviors, and food webs among native California wildlife and their habitats. Rescuing and rehabilitating individuals from this diversity of species, in addition to educating the public about respectful encounters with them, has been the mission of Native Animal Rescue (NAR) throughout its history spanning forty years.
NAR both protects and reflects the biodiversity of Santa Cruz County. At first, the only animals I pictured being rescued were baby deer stuck in fences, opossums and skunks living under people’s homes, and the occasional songbird with a broken wing. However, as illustrated in NAR’s photographs, the native wildlife that NAR rescues actually encompasses a wide variety of the species found in Santa Cruz County. We can get a good idea of the diversity of species present in the area by browsing data on iNaturalist.org, a smartphone app and website that compiles photo observations of plant, animal, and fungi species posted by people all around the world. iNaturalist puts the native terrestrial vertebrate species count for Santa Cruz County at 425 species. In its documented history, NAR has rescued more than 250 species of birds, mammals, reptiles, and amphibians.
Thus, NAR has rescued representatives from over half of the native wildlife species in Santa Cruz County. This is no small feat, especially considering that not only has NAR rescued this diversity of species but has photographed it as well. Through NAR’s photo galleries, we can see the bulbous bill of the surf scoter, the attentive ears of the pallid bat, the majesty of the cedar waxwing, and the slinking tail of the weasel, among many others. The photos bring to life the personalities and individuality of each animal rescued. The photos are a testament to both the incredible biodiversity in Santa Cruz County and to NAR’s years of work protecting it.
Hence, NAR rescues much more than the occasional raccoon in the gutter or injured pigeon, and we may see a rise in the demand of their services as humans continue to alter the ecosystems in which native wildlife live. As we consider ways to make our human-constructed landscapes more fit for native California wildlife to prevent the need for rescue, we might remember that the folks at NAR are on the ground doing the work to help animals that continue to face many barriers and challenges when it comes to interacting with the structures that people have put in place. Not only does the vast array of species NAR works with represent a great variety of California native wildlife, but the organization is contributing to preserving that biodiversity by rehabilitating those animals and releasing them back into their habitats so they may live…and reproduce.
I am grateful for the opportunities that I have had to view and appreciate native wildlife through respectful encounters. California is rich in diversity on many fronts, including animal species. As we reflect on NAR’s history of forty years, let’s keep the grand uniqueness of Santa Cruz County’s wildlife in our minds so we may move forward to steward and heal the environments in which these animals live. If we do so, may we be so fortunate as to observe and learn from the wildlife.
Katherine Montana is a recent graduate of UC Berkeley, as well as a budding biologist and science writer. She currently works at REI and as the manager of an independent bookstore in Folsom, CA, where she grew up. She is always happy to chat, and you can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or connect with her on Twitter @katemontana98.