Kohgee, a Eurasian eagle owl, took in his surroundings while perched atop the leather-gloved hand of a Fresno Wildlife Rehabilitation Service volunteer. He regally showed off his voluminous feathers and bright orange eyes while Jaime Carlino told his story to a group of Clovis residents.
A local man smuggled five Eurasian eagle owl eggs into the United States from Belgium in 2005 by painting them like Easter eggs. Three of the eggs hatched and one of them contained Kohgee, Carlino explains.
The smuggled birds were confiscated by the U.S. Department of Fish and Wildlife and turned over to agencies that could take care of them.
Fresno Wildlife Rehabilitation Service is an all-volunteer, nonprofit organization that cares for orphaned and injured Central Valley native wildlife. The agency’s goal is not only to rehabilitate animals and reintroduce them to their natural habitats, but also to educate the public in becoming more aware, concerned and understanding of wildlife.
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Kohgee, although perfectly healthy at nearly 11 years old, can’t be released into the wild because his species comes from Europe and Asia and could potentially “wipe out our native Great Horned Owl population,” Carlino said. “And they don’t want him back in Belgium because he’s been in America where there are different diseases.”
The massive-looking — yet only 4-pound — owl is now a teaching ambassador for FWRS, joining hawks, falcons and other rescued creatures who are too injured to survive in the wild to educate thousands of children and adults each year.
“We use them for education for ourselves or send them to other organizations, museums, schools or for science,” said Cathy Garner, founder and executive director of FWRS. “We’re wide-reaching. We give presentations for free … There are a lot of schools in outlying areas where students have never made it to the zoo.”
So Garner’s volunteers go to them.
The rehabilitation service’s tiniest educational ambassador weighs 110 to 113 grams and goes by the name of Blinky. The northern saw-whet owl is native to California’s forests, but Blinky, unable to fly, lives with Carlino.
“I’ve had her for three years now,” said Carlino, who plans to study wildlife biology with an emphasis in conservation management at Humboldt State University in the fall. “On a good day, she eats a whole mouse. On average she eats about a half a mouse a day.”
FWRS isn’t limited to helping birds of prey. It’s not uncommon for deer, foxes, squirrels, bobcats and possums to reside with volunteer caretakers until they can be released back into their natural habitat.
“We take in between 400 and 1,200 animals a year,” Garner said. “We do all native species. Mammals and birds are our specialties but we do bring in reptiles and amphibians.”
Injured animals are brought to FRWS from the general public, veterinarians, law enforcement agencies and animal shelters, Garner said.
“Just about anywhere. We have many crazy stories to share,” she said with a smile.
Kohgee and Blinky are just two of the tens of thousands of animals Fresno Wildlife Rehabilitation Service has saved over its 44 years in existence without a penny of public funding.
“We fund it all on our own, through donations from the public and we have amazing volunteers. We couldn’t do any of this without them,” Garner said. “Our volunteers buy a lot of the supplies they need.”
Feeding and providing veterinary care for the rescued animals prove to be the program’s heftiest expenses. Most of these funds are raised at the organization’s annual fundraiser banquet. This year the event will be Renaissance themed and feature dinner, live and silent auctions and a raffle. It will be begin at 6 p.m. Saturday, April 22 at Simonian Fruit Company in Fowler.
With the funds raised, Garner hopes she, her husband and their team of dedicated volunteers can continue to provide rehabilitation to species native to our area — and, of course, share their tales.
“There are very funny stories from over the years when you’re taking care of wildlife in your home,” she said.
What: Fresno Wildlife Rehabilitation Service Annual Fundraiser Banquet
When: 6-10 p.m., Saturday, April 22
Where: Simonian Fruit Co., 350 N. 7th St., Fowler
How much: Tickets cost $50 per person.
Renaissance apparel is welcome and encouraged. Event includes dinner, raffle, silent and live auctions.
Details: (559) 269-0837 or www.fresnowildlife.org
How to help
Donations can be mailed to Fresno Wildlife Rehabilitation, PO Box 2605, Clovis, CA 93613 or call (559) 298-3276.