The Tucson Wildlife Center: A Priceless Gem in the Sonoran Desert

Story by Rebecca West, Images by Tucson Wildlife Center
There was a time not so long ago when Tucson was teeming with wildlife centers. In fact, up until recently there were 12 of them, but now the area is down to just one — and thank your lucky stars, we still have it!

If you haven’t already guessed, it’s the Tucson Wildlife Center. Dedicated to the rescue, emergency medical care, and rehabilitation of sick, injured, and orphaned wildlife before release, they are also enthusiastic educators promoting habitat protection and coexistence with wildlife.

They got their start in 1998 when Lisa Bates and Peter Lininger founded the center. By 2000, they were rolling as a 501(c)3, and from then on, animals have been streaming in nonstop. The services, which are free to the public, include a round-the-clock emergency helpline, as well as the capture and transportation of injured animals, a 24-hour emergency room, and staff veterinarians specializing in wildlife on call 24/7.

The wide-ranging blend of patients they see are represented in many unique forms. From bold and beautiful bobcats and fearsome birds of prey to bristly and tenacious javelinas and everything in between — like foxes, coatimundi, coyotes, ducks, rabbits, and even pelicans — they all find their way to the center for treatment.

If you’ve ever been there, you realize how much effort it takes to accomplish this vital work. Being southern Arizona’s only state-of-the-art wildlife hospital operating 365 days a year, it’s crucial that we have them. Take the case of a little cactus wren that found herself partially trapped in a cruel snap trap meant to kill rodents. She was brought to Tucson Wildlife Center with her bill and one wing still ensnared in the trap’s oversized teeth.

Fortunately, her story had a happy ending as she had suffered only minimal injuries and was recently released. Most animals caught in these traps aren’t so lucky, however, and many die a slow, tortuous death from injuries, strangulation, or stress before they’re discovered. The ones that live are often admitted to TWC with fractured bones, deep lacerations, or missing limbs.

What many people that lay these traps don’t realize is that they regularly end up ensnaring domestic pets or non-target wildlife, such as skunks, raccoons, and other unwitting desert dwellers. Instead of snap traps, TWC recommends using safe and humane devices such as Havahart catch-and-release traps.

If you find an animal that’s been injured by a snap trap, TWC recommends that you do not attempt to remove them from the trap yourself. For the best chance of survival, call TWC instead. Medical treatment is almost always needed once a trap is removed. Poison is also strongly discouraged for pest control here in the desert, as it leads to a chain reaction of death, which has the ability to disrupt the balance of our delicate ecosystem.

According to Development Coordinator Hubert Parker, the Tucson Wildlife Center has two seasons. Their busy season runs from around March-April to October, “which is when we take in probably 70 to 80 percent of the animals,” he told us. That’s because it’s baby season. “Of the ‘savable’ animals that come in, we are able to release around 80 percent,” he added.  Sometimes that’s not possible. Right now, there are 11 sanctuary animals for whom the TWC will be their forever home.

If you’d like to help support them, the center could always use the assistance of volunteers. With a staff of less than 20, there’s no possible way they could do everything they do without them.

Another way is through their annual fundraising benefit. KOLD News 13’s meteorologist Erin Christiansen has been known to emcee the gala, including 2023’s event, which was held in March (it was their 25th anniversary). There’s always next year’s benefit, or you can make a donation whenever you like.

Another name you might recognize with regard to supporting the TWC is local artist Diana Madaras.  Passionate about the work they do, she’s a heavy-hitter on the fundraising scene and strives to raise awareness about the importance of the center’s nonstop efforts whenever she can.

Speaking of which, TWC receives zero government funding and is able to care for more than 5,000 animals a year due to grants and donations from generous animal lovers. At this point, they take as many as 20,000 calls a year, and it costs, on average, more than $1,000 a day to operate the center, so you can understand their need.

Other ways to help is by sponsoring animals, purchasing items on their Amazon Wish List, and through in-kind donations. If you visit their Ways to Support link at tucsonwildlife.com/ways-to-support, you’ll find all the information you’ll need to get started making a difference today.

(520) 290-9453



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