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A Second Chance to Fly : Teacher Nurtures Nature by Aiding Injured Wildlife at Her Home

June 02, 1993|ANN JOHNSON | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Ann Lynch's back yard looks like a veritable wildlife park: A sea gull hobbles about with a broken wing, three bay scrub jays dine on worms, and over in the corner are a pigeon and a dove, both suffering from wing injuries.

And then there is Rhett, a majestic red-shouldered hawk, perched on a stand in a chicken-wire shack where Lynch's husband used to grow orchids.

Welcome to South Bay Wildlife Rehab, a therapy center of sorts devoted to giving injured animals a second chance at life. Operated by Lynch, a 51-year-old science and math teacher, the center has turned parts of her family's Rancho Palos Verdes home into an animal hospital and park.

In a room inside the house, crates mark the temporary homes of three baby great horned owls and three baby barn owls. When a visitor approaches, they hiss like a den of vipers, fluff up their feathers so they appear twice their normal size and clap their beaks to scare off the unwelcome.

Resting under heat lamps in another part of the room are two baby mallard ducks and a baby peacock.

Lynch said she has been caring for sick, orphaned and injured wild animals for more than 20 years. She has operated the center with special permits from the California Department of Fish and Game and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service since 1984, and now has nine volunteers in the South Bay who assist her.

She says her goal is simple: to nurse back to health animals that seemed destined to die.

"Our deal is a second chance," she said. "We want to release them, if we can, to a second chance. Life will go on for them and it beats being stuck behind bars."

Last year, Lynch said she took in about 500 animals, most of them birds, and spent $5,000 caring for the critters--half of it from donations and the rest from her personal bank account.

People who find baby birds that have fallen out of nests often take them to Lynch. Other times, injured animals will be brought to her by local animal control officers.

Since 1984, Lynch said she has nursed back to health all sorts of creatures, including a double-crested cormorant (a large diving bird) and a Cooper's hawk that flew into a window in a vain attempt to capture an artificial dove attached to a Christmas tree. There was also a litter of baby skunks whose eyes had not yet opened, hawks that had been shot, owls that were poisoned and songbirds mauled by cats. There have been raccoons and gray fox, rabbits, squirrels, opossums and great blue heron.

Last year she even took in a Hawaiian nene goose, an endangered species, which was found "wandering the streets of Downey," she said.

Tony Warrington, a warden with the state Fish and Game Department, said people like Lynch are not reimbursed by the state for caring for wild animals. Before earning her permit, Warrington said Lynch had to prove her expertise in dealing with animals and be able to provide adequate housing facilities and veterinary and community support.

"We are allowing them to rehabilitate native sick animals in the area and we don't want to have to be looking over their shoulder," he said.

In addition to the donations and her own money, Lynch said she relies on the nine volunteers and the services of several veterinary groups that donate their time and services.

Lynch said she thinks it is important to teach children about the role of wildlife, and the need to help different species survive and thrive.

There are times when she is forced to integrate the caring of the birds into her daily class routine, such as when she is caring for baby birds that need to be fed every half an hour. When that happens, she carries the birds to class in small crates or boxes.

"I don't interrupt my class to feed them. But if I have to do it when my class is doing something else, I do it right in front of them," she said.

At home, Lynch said her three daughters often help with the work. Her high school-age twins helped her clean and medicate sea birds covered with oil after the Huntington Beach oil spill.

Her husband, Dick Lynch, while not a willing participant, tolerates the wildlife invasion. "You might say I'm entirely neutral" on wildlife rehabilitation, he said. An avid gardener, he has watched as both his greenhouse and his vegetable garden have gone, quite literally, to the birds.

Ann Lynch, meanwhile, goes about her work with the determination that something must be done to protect the animals.

"Man has encroached on the wild populations until we have forced out many native species," she said. "Like road runners. They still exist but they don't exist here anymore. What a shame. We try to give what does still exist a second chance. And the other side of what we do is to help the public appreciate their environment and, then, cherish it. You don't kill what you cherish."

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