Blog: Carlita the Croc

So You Think You Can Rehab?

California Sea Lions release

The idea of rescuing an animal can be very romantic:  You take in a helpless and vulnerable animal, nurse it back to health, foster a bond, and once its healthy, it decides it wants to stay with you forever.  Or maybe you relish in the good work you’ve done and release it back to the wild, but not before it longingly looks back at you with a “Thank You” in its eyes before disappearing into the distance.

In reality, rescued and released animals often run as fast as they can away from their rescuers with nary a glance over the shoulder – perhaps one only to be sure they are not being pursued. 

THAT is the sign of a successful rehabilitation.

As we saw in the last blog post, rescuing animals isn’t just cuddling them ‘til they’re all better.  Mark and Mairim gave us the low down on the labor of love that is rehabbing animals.

“We started by getting up at 6:30 every morning and didn’t leave until around 6 p.m.  Breaks were very short.  You’re just running from one thing to another,” says Mark about his time at Marine Mammal Care Center at Fort MacArthur. 

Mairim and Mark each spent about a week helping to rehabilitate sea lion pups who were rescued from the unusual mortality event  on California’s coast.  Due to their unique skill set as experts in sea lion behavior and husbandry, Mark and Mairim were put to work directly caring for the pups. 

California Sea Lions release

Takin’ care of babies

“We’d get there, we have to change into the work clothes, which was basically like a rubber cover-all,” says Mark.  “Generally we started by helping cleaning the enclosures to get ready for the first feeds.  The majority of the enclosures were feeding enclosures where the animals were eating on their own already.  But there was still a lot involved.  Four or five people would go in the enclosure and dump out fish at the same time, then you had to stay in there and actually call out all the animals; if they’re eating or not eating, if you saw something wrong with them.  Someone was recording that information.  Then there was a number of pens that had to be tube fed, so we had one or two teams going there.  Then maybe you took a short break or you cleaned more and then started the whole process over again.  It was that cycle three times a day. 

“Occasionally we’d get pulled off to do what we call ‘intake.’  So when a new animal came in they’d have to do a full physical on it.  I was involved in pre-release physicals.  Those are a little more difficult, you have to hold onto them for a lot longer and the animals are bigger.”

California Sea Lions release

Hands off

From our conversation, I learned that one of those most important things to do to insure a successful rehabilitation back to the wild, is to make sure the pups do not acclimate to being fed by humans.

“There’s really only so much you can do, but basically they never feed from our hands,” says Mark.  “We never take the fish and deliver it directly to them.  They fed them in these long sleds (there could be some water in there) but spread out the fish so they don’t have to compete with each other.

“And then there was a number of pens of sea lion pups that had to be tube fed.  Someone is using boards to coax them out into a location and then somebody restrains them, which isn’t positive, necessarily, for them.  Then the other person’s tube feeding.  So you go in and they pretty much stay away from you.” 

Do It for the Love

As a crocodile, I spend approximately 50% of my day basking (a.k.a. doing next to nothing).  So, to me, this sounds like a heck of a lot of work.  Why do it?

For Mairim, it was a learning opportunity, but also a way to directly be a part of conservation efforts:  “I knew that there was a crisis, so it was an opportunity for me to see how I could help.  It’s going to help the animals that we care for [at Brookfield Zoo].  If we had a pup that we needed to care for, I would feel pretty confident with being able to help because I have had that experience.  But, overall just doing what I could to help during a crisis was why I did it.  I wanted to help little babies.”

And Mark?  “Really, there’s not much more rewarding work you can do with animals.  We are literally, directly helping to save those animals’ lives.  Knowing that you’re working towards the ultimate goal of getting them back out to the ocean, it’s pretty cool.”

California Sea Lions release

You guys.  The feels, amirite? 

And so ends our tale of two heroes, Super Mairim and Wonder Mark.  As we saw, they helped give that real-life-happy-ending to a few wild sea lion pups who have since swam off into the sunset…leaving our heroes to eat their dust. 

Thanks Mark and Mairim!

Posted: 9/17/2015 12:50:12 PM by Steve Pine


Carlita the Croc

I'm Carlita the Croc, here to deliver my candid views on various topics, articles, news, and stories in conservation. For the latest news follow me on Twitter, for striking photos follow me on Instagram.

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