Boxer, an African serval, strutted through the crowd hissing— though he did not appear to object to the hands of people reaching out to touch his beautiful coat. The unique big cat was one of several animals that came to the Pacific Palisades home of Neil and Sue Kelley on Oct. 20 to raise awareness and funds for the Nature of Wildworks at its 25th anniversary event.
Wildworks is a Topanga based nonprofit organization founded by animal trainer Mollie Hogan in 1995 to provide interactive educational opportunities and programs that enhance public awareness about wild animals, while providing quality care for those animals that could not be released back into the wild. Some will live out their lives at the facility, where they will receive lifetime quality care.
Boxer came to Wildworks 17 years ago. As a kitten, he was relinquished to an animal shelter. “He’s very docile,” Hogan said, introducing him to the audience. “He rides in a car. But servals don’t make great pets. There is no litter box. They mark the whole house.”
On this day, at the Kelley residence, Boxer must have been on his best behavior. Besides showing a proclivity for hanging out in the rose bed, he walked on a leash and hissed at several dogs without showing any interest in marking his territory by urinating.
Patrons and guests could bid on numerous silent auction items. Volunteers introduced them to a snake, prairie dog, opossum, two ferrets, two foxes, a turkey vulture, great horned owl, barn owl, peregrine falcon, a hedgehog and Boxer.
Before founding Wildworks, Hogan worked as an animal trainer and caregiver at the Los Angeles Zoo. There, she raised and trained a variety of cats for the L.A. Zoo Cats Show. The “actors” included an ocelot, bobcat, lynx, caracal, serval, clouded leopard, cheetah and two mountain lions. Before long, she had several animals that came home with her. When the show was terminated in 1993, Hogan started Wildworks.
Today, the organization is a home for over 50 animals. They have been displaced from zoos, confiscated as illegally-owned wild animals, or rescued from the wild because they were injured or orphaned.
Spring, for example, is a gray fox. She was discovered in Northern California where she seemed to be starving and “was getting too close to people,” Hogan said.
Spring “appeared to be a hand-raised pet. She walked on a leash before we got her. Someone must have trained her,” Hogan said. The bushytailed carnivore’s condition was unsuitable for release in the wild. Today, Spring helps out with the organization’s outreach and education program.
Singer, a young barn owl, imprinted at a young age. “Imprinting” for wild birds is crucial to their long-term survival. When they hatch, they will identify with the closest species. He became too accustomed to humans to be released in the wild.
Singer is a father. One day, two female barn owls “found their way into the enclosure. One left and one stayed,” Hogan said. “All of a sudden, the female was sitting on eggs. She never left the eggs.” Eventually, there were four chicks, and Singer was charged with getting the food for all of them. When they were old enough, the baby birds and their mother were placed in an open cage away from Singer, and eventually, they departed. “I think he was relieved,” Hogan said.
Two mountain lions reside on the Topanga Canyon property. Pirate is blind. At eight months, he had developed cataracts due to inbreeding. He probably never could see, Hogan explained, but his eyes had to be removed. “You can’t tell he can’t see. His other senses are more enhanced. Everybody feels sorry for him, but he doesn’t feel sorry for himself.”
The other mountain lion, Cliff, was “so aggressive he was unwanted at a zoo.” Hogan worked with him for a year to calm him down and he has been with them for nearly 15 years.
All the animals have a story to tell, acting as ambassadors for their species. Wildworks cares for these animals that are non-releasable. They also build public respect and concern for native wildlife and the environment through student programs that meet California’s school curriculum mandates.
For more details about the many ways the organization provides educational opportunities, visit natureofwildworks.org.