Archive for Thursday, September 12, 2002

Agents seize 19 migratory birds from rehab agency

September 12, 2002

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Federal agents seized all migratory birds Wednesday at the WildCare animal facility after suspending the organization's permits to do rehabilitation and education work.

Action was taken by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officers, who removed 19 birds from pens and cages at WildCare on a farm east of Lawrence. WildCare cannot accept any sick, injured or orphaned birds during the suspension.

For now, WildCare retains a state permit to work with mammals.

State and federal officials have been investigating complaints about the adequacy of medical care for wildlife at WildCare and the organization's compliance with regulations for operating a rehabilitation program.

The Journal-World reported Sunday on the probe of WildCare.

Carol Bonebrake, an attorney and the president of WildCare, said federal permits required to rehabilitate migratory birds and to hold those animals  eagles, hawks, owls  for education programs were suspended indefinitely.

"It's not a revocation," she said. "This is an opportunity for WildCare to sit down with federal authorities and say, 'We've had problems and need to get our ducks in a row.'"

The federal permits were issued to WildCare under the control of Nancy Schwarting, serving as the organization's director.

Schwarting and WildCare were investigated 10 years ago and found to have violated federal law by transporting animals across state lines. Subsequently, Kansas University evicted WildCare from its headquarters on campus. It reformed as a nonprofit organization on land near the former Sunflower Army Ammunition Plant close to DeSoto.

Bonebrake said she didn't have details about the Fish and Wildlife Service's decision to pull the permits. She said she suspected it was linked to ongoing paperwork problems at WildCare and concern about the welfare of animals there.

"We want to put this behind us," she said.

Janell Suazo, chief of the Migratory Bird Permit Office of the Fish and Wildlife Service in Denver, wasn't available to comment. Investigators have been reluctant to discuss the situation during the past month, citing a desire not to jeopardize the probe.

Hawks, falcons, kestrels, owls, song birds and a turkey vulture confiscated from WildCare were taken by federal agents to a nearby rehabilitation facility, Operation WildLife, north of Eudora.

"We will have them 90 days, if not longer," said Diane Johnson, founder of Operation WildLife. "We were told there are more birds to come."

Other birds in custody of WildCare are apparently being cared for by volunteers in their homes.

Johnson said caring for the 19 birds and treatment for nine birds with nutrition problems taken from WildCare last month by federal agents had put a strain on her organization's budget and volunteer staff.

"I am trying to be part of the solution," Johnson said.

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