By Matthew Rodriguez
UNION-TRIBUNE STAFF WRITER
January 10, 2007
BONSALL – Electrified fencing surrounds a new 6-acre wild animal compound in Bonsall that houses confiscated and donated animals, such as alligators, porcupines and armadillos.
The electric fence wasn’t built to keep in the animals, which are housed in a maze of cages. It’s to keep out animals such as coyotes, which were spotted trying to dig under the fence, said Jackie Navarro, director of Wild Wonders Inc. Staff members have even seen a bobcat nearby.
“He was looking for a free meal,” Navarro said.
Keeping the animals safe was a top consideration for Wild Wonders Inc. staff, as the company recently moved from Vista to Bonsall. The new compound provides more space to house the animals, Navarro said, and the organization hopes to offer tours to donors.
“We seriously outgrew our other compound in Vista,” she said.
Wild Wonders Inc. is an animal outreach company that also operates a nonprofit organization, Zoofari Inc. The nonprofit is the company’s fundraising arm, but it also supports the organization’s partners, such as Cheetah Conservation Botswana, a group working to save endangered cheetahs. The nonprofit also encourages local businesses to fund wild animal visits to local schools.
Navarro founded Wild Wonders in 1991 with five animals she kept in college: a boa constrictor, a chinchilla, an iguana, a parrot and a tortoise. Now the company has more than 100 animals. Wild Wonders also has six full-time staff members and 10 volunteers.
It took three years to find the site in Bonsall – and another three to obtain the permits to keep the animals, Navarro said.
Wild Wonders is required to have California Department of Fish & Game permits for each species under its care, company supervisor Kimberly Wright said. The organization also has to have permits for its mammals with U.S. Department of Agriculture, she said.
Some of the animals have been donated by zoos; many have been confiscated by authorities. Others have been given to the organization.
For instance, a Vista landlord contacted the company about a year ago when tenants left a baby alligator in an apartment after moving out, Navarro said. Now, the alligator resides at Wild Wonders where it could grow as long as 15 feet and as heavy as 1,000 pounds. Navarro said it is illegal to keep an alligator as a pet.
Staff members take the animals to classrooms and other venues to get the word out about wildlife conservation. Many of the animals have appeared on TV shows, such as “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno” on NBC.
The price of a classroom visit, Navarro said, begins at $275 for local schools, and the company travels nationwide. The animals, which staffers call ambassadors, sometimes work three or four days a week during the busy spring and summer months, Navarro said. They always have Mondays off.
Not all the animals travel to events, and some have even retired such as Savannah, a 13-year-old African serval cat, and Briz, a 10-year-old wallaby.
Wild Wonders now hopes to offer tours for groups of 6 to 10 people. Navarro said she hasn’t decided on a suggested group donation, but individual donors have given between $100 and $5,000, she said.
At the Bonsall compound, animals are fenced in groups of cages on four levels with hallways that allow up-close viewing. Staff members stop to feed the animals or provide what they call “behavioral enrichment.” This entails giving the animals boxes with treats inside, so they have to open them. “It’s like a puzzle that they have to solve,” Navarro said.
Small animals are kept in a 1,500-square-foot building. On a tour yesterday, snakes slithered up against the sides of their transparent containers. Nearby, two parrots were kept inside because they pluck out their feathers – a problem with some parrots – making them more sensitive to the cold. In another room, armadillos scurried around in cages on the floor. Navarro stopped to feed a tiny, wide-eyed bush baby with wax worms.
Navarro, who lives at the compound with her husband, said the job takes 24 hours a day.
She praised her new neighbors in Bonsall and said they don’t seem to mind the new addition to the neighborhood. “They’ve all had tours,” she said.
Matthew Rodriguez: (760) 476-8239; firstname.lastname@example.org