Project Wildlife looks out for the county’s diverse fauna
BY JENNIFER McENTEE
San Diego’s mild climate and proximity to the ocean, the mountains and the desert make it a great place for people. It also means a variety of wildlife call San Diego home. Sometimes the public encounters sick, injured or orphaned wildlife in need of medical assessment and treatment. That’s where Project Wildlife, a program of San Diego Humane Society, comes in.
“The more people encroach on territories, the more we interact with wildlife,” says Carly Padilla, community outreach educator for Project Wildlife. “We are one of the most biodiverse regions in the country, with over 320 different species residing here. We are also the primary breeding location for a significant number of endangered species.”
Project Wildlife relies on the public, local businesses, government agencies and other animal organizations to bring wildlife in need of help to Project Wildlife’s care center on Sherman Street or one of its 60 satellite sites.
Padilla says the center sees a lot of birds, from seagulls to woodpeckers, and mammals, including cottontail rabbits, squirrels and the occasional skunk or coyote. It’s one of the largest wildlife rehabilitation organizations in the United States, caring for upward of 10,000 birds and mammals annually.
Project Wildlife is a volunteer-supported program. During the busy “baby season” in spring, a staff of 10 wildlife experts works with more than 400 volunteers, many of whom are trained to care for specific animal species—from raptors to raccoons—on their own property.
Project Wildlife has offered animal rehabilitation and conservation education since 1972; it merged with San Diego Humane Society in 2014. The relationship means it benefits from access to SDHS infrastructure, funding and facilities, including a new 5,200-square-foot wildlife rehabilitation center under construction at the San Diego Campus.
“It’s been a wonderful merger,” Padilla says. “Now under the umbrella of San Diego Humane Society, all animals have someone looking out for them.”
The primary mission of Project Wildlife staff and volunteers is to care for sick, injured and displaced animals so they can be released back into the wild. Legally, wild animals need to be released within a 3-mile radius of where they were found. Some animals are too severely injured and must be humanely euthanized. Some animals won’t thrive if returned to the wild, but can become animal ambassadors in interactive educational programs for school groups, community organizations and library programs.
Padilla says public education is important for dispelling common myths—for instance, baby birds won’t be rejected by their mothers if touched by humans, and skunks don’t really want to spray you—and for teaching how we can live alongside wildlife without endangering it.
“Animals are looking to survive, too. We all share San Diego as our home—a lot of people and animals want to live here,” she says. “Part of what makes San Diego great is that we have a variety of ecosystems to explore and so many different animal species with which to coexist.”
For more information, visit
BIG NEWS Later this year, thanks to the generosity of donors, including leadership gifts from Pilar and Chuck Bahde, Rita Myers and the J.W. Sefton Foundation, San Diego Humane Society will be opening a new state-of-the-art Wildlife Rehabilitation Center. Since 1972, Project Wildlife has operated in a Wildlife Triage Center that is not sufficient to meet the growing needs of wildlife rehabilitation in San Diego. Each year, in an 1,100-square-foot trailer, Project Wildlife rehabilitates more than 10,000 sick, injured and orphaned wild animals.