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Wildlife Waystation works to evacuate exotic animals from Little Tujunga Canyon

September 1, 2009 |  6:28 pm

SFchimps

Yesterday we learned about the farm animals who were shuttled away to safety because of the Station fire, but what of the exotic creatures at the Wildlife Waystation in Little Tujunga Canyon? The 160-acre facility is home to more than 400 animals, including tigers, lions, bears and chimpanzees.

Our colleague Robert Lopez from the L.A. Now blog wrote yesterday that volunteers arrived with pickup trucks to help evacuate the animals. Waystation spokesman Jerry Brown said that an 18-wheel Budweiser truck even came to the rescue. 

Moving the hundreds of animals that call the Waystation home is no simple task, as anyone who's ever had to load even one nervous animal into a car or livestock trailer will understand.  The process continues today, with trucks leaving the sanctuary on a regular basis.  At present, Brown says, "this is still very, very much an evacuation," although the sanctuary has received an enormous amount of assistance from others in the animal-rescue community. 

Today, Times photographer Al Seib took the photo above of chimpanzees as they were loaded into cages to make their way to the L.A. Zoo; Brown said today that the zoo has provided safe harbor for nearly 50 chimps, as well as other animals like exotic reptiles.  (Well, mostly safe; two female chimps escaped while being unloaded at the zoo, necessitating a different kind of evacuation -- that of zoo visitors.  One chimp wandered to another exhibit at the zoo and was tranquilized and recaptured within about 20 minutes; the other was found in nearby Griffith Park about an hour after she escaped.) 

Meanwhile, back at the sanctuary, more animals continue to pace in their cages as they wait for transport out of the path of the fires.  "They're going to a number of locations," Brown said, including Pierce College in addition to the zoo.

A message on the sanctuary's website reads, "The Wildlife Waystation is currently weathering the storm. All of our animals are safe. Although the fire is dangerously close, we are fully staffed and prepared to care for our more than 400 animals and our sanctuary built more than 33 years ago. Emergency crews have worked around the clock to preserve our safety. Thank you for your concern and interest."

The website seems much calmer than the tweets being posted and reposted on Twitter, where the requests sent by dozens of concerned parties appear more dire: "SPREAD THE WORD--WILDLIFE WAYSTATION NEEDS HELP EVACUATING ANIMALS! 14831 Little Tujunga Canyon Rd Sylmar, 91342."

Contrary to the frantic Tweeting, Brown stresses that the Waystation currently has all the personnel, trucks and trailers it needs to evacuate -- the most pressing needs now are funds and the giant-sized transport crates needed to move the remaining big cats.

Anyone able to provide the hard-to-come-by large cages the sanctuary needs to continue its evacuation is encouraged to call (818) 899-5201.  The cages must be able to hold a lion or tiger approximately 400 pounds, and smaller ones are no longer needed for the evacuation effort. 

Mostly, according to Brown, the sanctuary -- a nonprofit that operates largely on donations -- needs funds in order to weather this storm.  "This thing is costing a fortune," he says.  The sanctuary's website is configured to accept secure donations; for a full list of ways you can help Southern California's wildfire victims (both human and animal), check out The Times' How to Help page.

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Tigers pace as they await evacuation from the Waystation.  (Credit: Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

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A white tiger waits to be evacuated from the Waystation.  (Credit: Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

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A tiger paces in its cage as volunteers work to evacuate the sanctuary's animal residents.  (Credit: Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

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Chuck Johnston (left) and Craig Nollner get cages ready for smaller animals that are being prepared to be evacuated from the Waystation.  (Credit: Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

-- Tony Pierce and Lindsay Barnett

Top photo: Wildlife Waystation founder Martine Colette tries to comfort the 13 chimpanzees that were loaded into cages for transport to a safe holding location at the L.A. Zoo on Tuesday afternoon. Credit: Al Seib / Los Angeles Times

Fire300
Firemap295
Interactive map: The Station fire

Huge wildfire shows little sign of slowing down

Firefighters died in effort to escape

Evacuee who may have lost home awaits word on animals left behind

Mt. Wilson webcam: The 150-Foot Solar Tower

L.A. County Fire Department: The latest

Twitter: Follow @latimescitydesk | @latimesfires

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