Behind the scenes at the Pauline S. Schneegas Wildlife Foundation
Citizen Telegram Contributor
Lions and tigers and bears, oh my — well, at least the lions and bears at the Pauline S. Schneegas Wildlife Foundation.
The foundation is the only entity in the state that holds the unique combination of permits allowing it to host a tiger and all wildlife species, including federally listed and threatened and endangered wildlife, according to Nanci Limbach, executive director.
The Pauline S. Schneegas Wildlife Foundation began as grass-roots effort in 1984 and gained its official nonprofit status in 1991. Limbach, dreamed of working with animals as a child and eventually actuated her dream with the foundation, which is named after her grandmother, who was passionate about wildlife.
The foundation specializes in the rehabilitation and release of bears and mountain lions, but extends these services to a variety of wildlife. The foundation also provides educational services to the community, including a veterinary program through Colorado Mountain College, field trips for schools and other organizations.
The foundation also can execute minor surgeries in their small medical facility and offers full natal care for wildlife.
A satellite facility in Fruita staffed by Dr. Paul Bingham, director of veterinary services, offers assistance for major surgeries on wildlife, in addition to Bingham’s regular veterinary practice. Dr. Bingham is often called upon to offer his assistance to any seriously injured animals that come to the foundation.
A complicated operation
Though the foundation looks to be a fairly simple and quiet operation from the outside, there is a great deal of complicated permitting, stressful funding issues, and lack of volunteers and assistance that Limbach and her one full-time employee must overcome every year.
“Our annual budget is between $120,000 to $150,000,” said Erin Romero, assistant to the director at the foundation, “depending on what needs to be built, or repaired.”
And, Limbach explained, utilities at the foundation are a pretty hefty annual cost.
“There’s water that needs to be pumped and heated, cages that have to have special temperatures — all the utilities can run us around $20,000 per year,” Limbach said, while noting that insurance for the foundation averages about $10,000 per year. The exposure to wild animals, makes most insurance companies wary. “We had one company drop us because of what we do,” said Limbach.
The greatest misconception the foundation encounters with the public is its funding source.
“We are funded solely by private donations and grants,” Limbach said.
The foundation doesn’t receive any financial assistance from Colorado Parks and Wildlife, or any other state or federal organizations.
“Many of the grants we receive are for educational purposes,” Limbach said. “It’s very difficult to find funding for rehabilitation.”
Limbach herself is not paid for what she has done for the past 32 years.
“I do it for the animals,” she said.
Romero is the only paid full-time employee and she shares the many duties with Limbach in running the facility. She is in training to take over the foundation when Limbach retires.
Romero started volunteering during the summer months in 2010 and 2011, and was hired as the first full-time employee in 2012. Romero holds a provisional license that will be upgraded in January to a full rehabilitation license. She also received her veterinary technician certificate last summer.
Beyond the foundation’s funding, it must adhere to very strict permitting procedures to continue rehabilitation.
“Fewer and fewer agencies are offering rehabilitation,” Limbach said, referring to the difficulty of acquiring the special permits needed.
To even begin a wildlife rehabilitation facility an applicant must already have an adequate facility in place before applying for the permits needed.
Limbach holds five permits: two federal permits that include a special purpose live possession permit and a rehabilitation permit. Through the state, the foundation holds an educational live possession permit, a commercial parks license, and a rehabilitation permit. Each of these must be renewed annually to allow the foundation to continue its practices. Every year in January, Limbach and Romero gather their logs and start applying for the permits and grants that will keep the foundation running.
“That’s what we’re getting ready for right now,” Romero said as she sat at a desk strewn with binders and documents of the year’s operations.
Home to many
The Pauline S. Schneegas Wildlife Foundation sits on four acres between Silt and Rifle, land that is owned by Limbach and is leased to the foundation. The land not only encompasses the foundation but is home to her husband Paul’s beekeeping operation and the family homestead museum, both of which will be expanding in educational outreach this upcoming year
Wildlife is Limbach’s passion, and Romero’s as well.
This year the foundation built a new intensive care unit off of their recently built large raptor flight cage that will allow birds of prey in rehabilitation. Its first temporary resident is a bald eagle that has a fractured wing. The eagle — believed to be female — has had surgery and a pin was put in place. Once the bone heals, the pin will be removed and Limbach and Romero will start physical therapy.
Eventually it will be moved into the flight cage to finish strengthening and then, if all goes well, it will be released back into the wild.
On average, the foundation sees 450 animals per year, which are brought in from Garfield, Mesa and Pitkin counties.
However, some of the animals that come to the foundation cannot be released and become permanent residents.
“As human-wildlife interaction increases there are more animals getting injured, which results in more animals we need to take care of,” Romero said. “These permanent residents are the result of human interaction.”
Six mammals, four birds and 12 amphibians will live out the rest of their lives at the foundation. Some already have. Annie, a mountain lion, came to the foundation when she was about 1 year old. An individual had been keeping her illegally in his friend’s chicken coop, and she was confiscated.
She previously was de-clawed and could not be released. Annie lived at the foundation for 18 years before dying of kidney failure. Keno (Keno Pabi), also a mountain lion, was brought to the foundation when he was about 2 years old. He was “owned” by an individual living in another state, who had to surrender him as it is illegal to possess wildlife without a license in Colorado.
Keno spent his entire life with a crooked jaw because he had broken it biting the cage he was held captive in. He also was de-clawed. Keno spent the rest of his life at the foundation and eventually succumbed to kidney failure at the age of 21.
The lions spent many years together and bonded. After Annie’s death, Keno had to be euthanized a few days later. He refused to eat once she was gone and he deteriorated quickly.
“Though both lions were regretfully forced to live in cages their entire lives because of humans, we decided to make the most of their situation and use them as ambassadors for the foundation and their fellow wild creatures,” Romero stated. “They showed people the power and majesty of mountain lions, and we hope they taught people to respect their rightful place in nature, not in someone’s home.”
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Rifle city judges have more options now when it comes to what to do with the pets of owners who are repeat offenders for animal-related offenses.