you're reading ...
Fall 2008, Hayley Jackson-Weber, Past Students

Out of Africa: Rescuing America’s Exotic Pets

By Hayley Jackson-Weber

This gator was abandoned after his owners moved out of their apartment, leaving him behind.

This gator was abandoned after his owners moved out of their apartment, leaving him behind.

It’s a house just like any other in this Bonsall neighborhood. But walking up the driveway, you immediately get the feeling that this is not an ordinary residence.

The noises are the first indication: squawks, squeaks and yelps echo around the area, and the pens and runs dotting the property make for interesting landscaping features.

Zoofari, Inc. is a non-profit organization group that rescues a variety of confiscated, abandoned or non-releasable wildlife. The facility is the pet project of Director, Jackie Navarro. Navarro says that rescuing animals has always been her passion, and Zoofari naturally evolved from that.

“I was bringing home injured animals when I was 6 or 7 years old. I always knew, since I was a child that this is what I want to do,” she said. Navarro’s life changed after working at the Wild Animal Park in San Diego. “I fell in love with working with captive wildlife and enriching their lives.”

Helping the Helpless

The stories of how Navarro gets her animals range from sad to bizarre. A landlord found one of the facility’s resident alligators lying in the middle of the living room floor after his owners moved out of their apartment. Jackson; the marmoset came to Zoofari after a long legal battle. Navarro recalls how the simian was to be euthanized after he bit his owner.

Jackie Navarro and Victor the Cheetah.

Jackie Navarro and Victor the Cheetah.

“We had to go to bat with San Diego Health and Human Services to try and save this highly endangered species,” she said, noting, “It was quite a battle to save this little guy’s life.” But she eventually won, and the animal was released to Navarro. Jackson is now one of more than 120 creatures in Zoofari’s menagerie.

“I was bringing home injured animals when I was 6 or 7 years old. I always knew, since I was a child that this is what I want to do,” she said. Navarro’s life changed after working at the Wild Animal Park in San Diego. “I fell in love with working with captive wildlife and enriching their lives.”

A Growing Facility

After growing too large for its old location in Vista, Zoofari moved to the five acre property in Bonsall five years ago. Navarro says the new location gives them “a little more room to breathe.”

An arctic fox is just one of the many animals at Zoofari.

An arctic fox is just one of the many animals at Zoofari.

The demands of caring for the animals are staggering. Many of the animals have special dietary needs, while others require constant medical care. “A lot of the animals that come in already have pre-conditions that we have to take care of,” Navarro said. And the upkeep isn’t cheap. Zoofari expenses are about $22,000 a month, and runs at a deficit of $15,000 each month. “We rely on the support of other individuals that are also passionate about wildlife,” Navarro said. Those donations help keep the facility going from one month to the next.

Animal Education

Zoofari isn’t just about rescuing animals. “The unique thing about our center is that almost every single species goes out and does wildlife educational outreach programs,” Navarro said.

Many of her animals have traveled extensively, and are often the stars at schools and other educational events around the country. Victor the cheetah came all the way from De Wildt Cheetah and Wildlife Trust in South Africa. Victor was socialized from the time he was a cub to be around people. He knows how to walk on a leash, and likes to have his enormous head scratched. Navarro uses Victor to teach school children about wild animals and animal conservation.

Wild Attraction

Looking fondly at her aviary of macaws and parrots, Navarro knows that while she is helping these animals a great deal, this isn’t an ideal situation. “Birds aren’t meant to be caged” she says, and that’s the feeling with all her animals. As much as she wishes that they could be returned to the wild, none of the animals at Zoofari would survive if they were released. Many have been hand-reared, and are too tame to be returned to their natural habitat.

Navarro says that so many animals end up at Zoofari because of the attraction that wild animals hold for people who think they can care for them in their homes. “There is such a draw for people to get a little bit of the wild. There’s always been that attraction and mystery with wildlife,” Navarro said, adding that some states actually allow residents to keep a bear or tiger in their backyard.

Navarro blames lax enforcement of animal smuggling and ownership laws for the poor care that failed many of Zoofari’s creatures. While California has the most restrictive animal laws in the nation, Navarro says not enough is being done by the Department of Fish and Game. “California is broke. There are just simply not enough officers out there to enforce those laws,” she said.

Advertisements

Discussion

Comments are closed.