For the last two months, tortoises, turtles, birds, guinea pigs and other animals formerly kept at Oakland's Rotary Nature Center have been recovering at different rescue sites after they were discovered in a state of neglect in March, when the city closed the site for a cleaning.
Some of the animals have already been adopted, but others may never be healthy enough to leave the rescue center, said an expert.
San Francisco-based Yggdrasil Urban Wildlife Rescue was asked to take charge of the animals on March 24 after they were found in small wooden boxes stacked inside a dark closet inside the nature center, said Yggdrasil director Lila Talcott-Travis.
Some of the animals had been there for years, barely getting out for sunshine and lacking adequate diet and hygiene.
One Russian tortoise spent more 15 years in one of the boxes, developing shell rot because she was stuck in her own feces; doctors had to chip away large chunks of rotted material from her shell, according to Talcott-Travis.
In all, they removed a California desert tortoise, two three-toed eastern box turtles, three Russian tortoises, a leopard gecko, two bobwhite quail, a parakeet, two guinea pigs, and a mouse.
The birds were sent to Raptors are the Solution in Berkeley, where they were treated for parasites and poor feather condition from lack of sunlight. The mammals went to RabbitEars Rescue in El Cerrito, where they’ve been cleaned of parasites and have recovered.
"I've been in the rescue world for decades, so I knew who to send the animals to," Talcott-Travis said.
The Rotary Nature Center remains closed for “assessment and cleaning,” according to its webpage. City officials have been tight-lipped about an investigation into the animals’ condition and when the center might reopen.
But Talcott-Travis said she is aware of multiple complaints about the condition of the animals at the center, some from as long of 15 years ago.
"I don't understand how the situation got to where it was, because there's been a history of reports of problems with the animals," she said.
Yggdrasil is fundraising online to upgrade their intensive care habitats and buy supplies. While rescuers shared good news about the reptiles, others will likely need to remain with them for years and may never be healthy enough to be adopted.
The turtles and tortoises have been enjoying their new access to sunshine, digging in the soil and foraging for dandelion greens and strawberries. Two of the tortoises, as well as the leopard gecko, have already been adopted.
But the two box turtles, the California desert tortoise and the third Russian tortoise, which suffered shell rot, will likely need to remain with the center for the rest of their lives.
The Russian tortoise, Jupiter, has been doing well, said Talcott-Travis.
"She has made this incredible recovery after this incredibly long vet visit, when we removed layers of rotten shell," she said. "We call her the 'racing tortoise' because she's so fast and engaged in life."
The center was built in 1963 to provide education about the natural environment and oversee the Lake Merritt Wildlife Refuge, the first wildlife refuge established in North America since Mayor Samuel Merritt established it as a bird sanctuary in 1869.
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