MERLIN, Ore.– Wildlife Images in Josephine County says it’s been overloaded with animals this year who have been displaced by nearby wildfires. The nonprofit has taken in as many as it can, but money is tight as the fires and smoke are deterring tourists from visiting.
According to Executive Director Dave Siddon, tourism has been down for the last four years and the organization is losing a ton of money. This year, Siddon estimates the number of visitors is down about two-thirds and full production of the facility is costing hundreds of thousands of dollars.
“We’ve had a shortfall of probably close to $300,000 to keep going,” said Siddon.
Siddon says they’ve had to reach deep into their reserves for the past several years to keep things running and now those reserves are starting to dry up.
“Oh it stresses me out considerably,” he said. “To think that I’m responsible directly for the 25 so employees that we have here, plus 85 or so resident animals and then all the wildlife intakes.”
Those intakes or “patients” that the organization take in are a big part of the cost of running the facility. These animals the nonprofit get are all injured or displaced wild animals that will be cured and then released back into the wild. But caring for even just one animal isn’t cheap.
“Thousands of dollars involved in just one patient,” said Siddon. “You know, like a bald eagle with rodenticide poisoning, that’s a lot of tender loving care, chelation therapy, a lot of other things that will go into this animal.”
So far this year, Wildlife Images has taken in 875 wild animal patients, ranging from baby squirrels and skunks to bald eagles and raccoons – many of which have been chased from their habitats by the wildfires across southern Oregon.
“Animals we’re getting in right now aren’t victims of the fire directly,” said Siddon. “You know not burn victims or anything like that but they are secondary causes. They may have wandered into a road or something like that, been hit by a car, then we get them that way.”
Last year, Wildlife Images took in 998 animals by the end of the season and according to Siddon, the organization is on track to surpass that number this year since there are about four more months till the end of the season.
On top of all of this is the cost of caring for their permanent residents.
“Those are the guys we have to protect from smoke and all those other things that have been inundating us for the last four years,” said Siddon. “We have vet bills and power bills and all the other things that come along with those so our expenses and our level of care for the animals have both have come up considerably.”
If this trend continues, Wildlife Images is worried it may have to shut its doors. That’s why they’re asking for the public’s help to not just save them but to save the animals as well.
“Ideally, we want to get about 4,000 members from the surrounding communities and if we can do that, the place will be solvent and we will be all right,” said Siddon.
On Saturday, August 25 the organization will be holding an open house to allow people to show up without having to book a tour like you would normally do. Standard admission will still apply.
If you’re interested in learning how to become a member or support the organization in other ways, you can find out more at the Wildlife Images website.
NBC5 News Reporter Miles Furuichi graduated from Chapman University with degrees in English and Journalism. He received post graduate experience in Los Angeles in photojournalism and commercial photography. He also spent time in Dublin, Ireland working in print journalism and advertising.
Miles is a Rogue Valley native, raised in Ashland. He enjoys hiking, mountain biking and photography.