Epic Stables support Wildlife Waystation
On Feb. 18, Pratt and his Epic Stables hosted a cocktail party for about 25 friends, designed to bring awareness to the operation, founded 36 years ago by Martine Colette, who continues to run it today.
“It brings a little more meaning to my business to support an operation like the Wildlife Waystation,” Pratt said, and he hopes fellow equestrians will feel the same way. The 501 (c) (3) charity is in major fundraising mode.
The compound sprawls over 160 acres in the Angeles National Forest, about four miles from Foothill Boulevard on Little Tujunga Canyon.
Since its inception, the Waystation has provided care and shelter to more than 76,000 animals and it’s currently home to about 400. “If I’d known how long they’d be staying I would have called it the Wildlife Home,” Colette quipped.
Most of the animals are exotics that spent the majority of their lives in captivity and therefore cannot be returned to the wild, and the Waystation expends considerable energy in educational outreach as to why wild animals do not make good pets.
“People love exotic animals as pets. They buy lion cubs, baby bears, chimpanzees, the neighbors take pictures and everybody thinks it’s great. A few months later that lion cub is looking at the children like they’re lunch, so the owner calls the zoo, the zoo says ‘No thanks.’ So what do you do with an unwanted lion?”
Lions and tigers and bears, Colette has multiples of them all, in addition to leopards, hyenas, wolves, buffalo and a variety of monkeys. Some are cast-offs from the entertainment industry, including a number of very friendly tigers, some primates and birds. “Not everybody works out,” she said.
For the past seven years, the outfit has operated without its conditional use permit, cutting off a vital source of funding—visits from schools and the general public. Without the permit, children are banned from the premises altogether, and only private visits are allowed. In order to renew her permit, certain improvements must be made. These include paving roads, upgrading the electrical system and improving water storage and distribution for firefighting.
“When we have $80,000 sitting in the bank and there is a rescue to be made or a road to be repaved, guess which we picked?,” she said, estimating it will cost $250,000 for the upgrades necessary to bring the place up to today’s safety and building codes, a requirement for getting the renewal.
That is in addition to the facility’s $1.7 million annual operating budget. As anyone who has a pet can imagine, feeding 400 animals is not cheap! And there is no city water flowing to the facility—water is hauled in daily, and a new water truck is high on Colette’s “wish list” of upgrades.
While there is a core group of about 100 volunteers that pitches in, the Waystation also has approximately 30 paid employees, including two full-time veterinarians. “If someone finds an injured coyote or owl, and takes it to a veterinary hospital, it’s going to cost a lot of money. Not everyone has that big a wallet or that big a heart,” she noted.
“We treat all native wildlife free of charge, and those that can be released into the wild again are. Not all can be.”
In addition to assisting wildlife from the local community, Colette gets 911 calls from municipalities all over the nation. In 1995, after hearing “no room” from dozens of other facilities, the New York University School of Medicine was able to place 65 chimpanzees — refugees from its shuttered laboratory research program — with the Waystation.
Staff worked around the clock over an eight-day period to build temporary housing for the new arrivals.
Another big rescue was the evacuation of 27 lions and tigers from the Ligertown Game Farm in Idaho. Colette got a call from the U.S. Department of Agriculture after 17 of the big cats escaped the “captive hunting” preserve, where sportsmen paid for the privilege of shooting exotic animals. Total cost of that rescue was $700,000, made possible largely through a donation by Chevron. Over the years, 67 African lions have resided at the Waystation, which has about 20 living there now.
One thing that immediately strikes visitors is how happy the animals look. Most of them live in a community setting, and there is no evidence of the pacing or neurotic behaviors sometimes seen in zoos. Colette is determined to raise funds for an upgraded enclosure for Diamond, a Kodiak bear that at 1,300 pounds weighs more than most recreational riding horses. “He needs a much bigger pool, and a pool filter so we can recycle the water, which we do whenever possible.”
The materials required to house a Kodiak bear are very expensive. “The wire for the caging is special order due to the strength required. The only thing larger on our premises would be buffalo. Next level up, you’re looking at hippopotamus or rhinoceros,” Colette explained.
It takes a special person to welcome a grizzly bear into their home and heart. “I think the Wildlife Waystation is a great cause,” Pratt said. “In this economy, these types of places are getting fewer and farther between. It’s important to support existing sanctuaries.”