Celebrating the wildlife releases of the PAWS Wildlife Center
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by Kevin Mack, PAWS Wildlife Naturalist
At 9 am on Tuesday June 22nd I was chasing a fuzzy brown blur around a cage on the hill behind the PAWS Wildlife Center. I was wearing gloves at the time, and I was wielding a net with which I am ordinarily very skilled. I say "ordinarily" because on this day I was dealing with an animal that is particularly adept at avoiding capture. I had already come close on two earlier attempts, covering the animal with the net, and momentarily slowing him down enough to distinguish his small eyes, sleek body, short legs, and black-tipped tail. To my frustration, on both occasions he had squeezed out from under the net and returned to his erratic pattern of evasion, running me in circles and making me dizzier by the minute. I gave him a moment's reprieve (which was really more for my benefit than his), and he retreated to a ledge in the upper part of his cage to taunt me with high-pitched, almost sneeze-like vocalizations. After clearing my head, I climbed up a stepladder and chased him back down to a more accessible area of the cage. At last I was able to net him and then grab him with my gloved hand in a quick but gentle motion. He protested, first by squeaking and then by biting my glove several times as I transferred him to a small transport container with a very secure lid. When he was safely inside, I realized that I had been holding my breath, and I let out a long, slow exhalation. As I exhaled, I saw a frightened little face looking out at me from the transport container. In that moment I wished that there were some way for me to convey to the little Short-tailed Weasel that I had only captured him so that he could be set free.
Short-tailed Weasel 04-0817 was just an infant when a homeowner in Woodinville discovered him in his yard on April 26th. Far too young to be out of the den, the weasel was sparsely furred and his eyes had not yet opened. He was brought to PAWS to be raised until he was able to fend for himself. Upon arrival he was found to be a bit thin (even for a weasel), but he was otherwise in excellent health. He was started on a specialized milk formula and quickly began to put on weight. Soon his eyes opened, and solid food was introduced by mixing it with the formula in a dish. The weasel took to solid food quickly and was soon weaned off of the formula. About three weeks after he was admitted, weasel 04-0817 was moved to an outdoor cage where he would complete his growth and develop his running and climbing abilities. By mid-June the weasel had passed all appropriate tests and was deemed fit for release.
If you are a regular reader of "Wild Again", you have received two glimpses of weasel 04-0817's progress in the form of photos that were featured in past issues. Today, you get to see the final step in his rehabilitation process. The weasel was released on King County Parks land in Woodinville. His release container was placed on an old, overgrown brush pile on the edge of a small patch of forest. Bordering the forest was a grassy area that provided good habitat for the mice and voles that will make up the bulk of the weasel's diet. Ordinarily, a weasel release photo consists of a dark brown blur or simply an empty release carrier, but 04-0817 wanted to give his surroundings a quick examination before rushing away. The following photos document his initial reaction to his newfound freedom.
In this photo, the lid to the transport carrier has just been removed by Wildlife Rehabilitator Corrie Hines. Weasel 04-0817 is staring up at her as if he is wondering what she will do next.
Realizing there are no longer any walls around him, the weasel turns to the left and sniffs the air.
Next the weasel discovers that a naturalist is nearby pointing a camera at him.
The weasel pauses on the edge of his transport container and cranes his neck to make sure the coast is clear.
Making a decision, the weasel crawls over the edge of the container and disappears into the old, moss-covered brush pile on which the container had been placed.
Wildlife Release tally: June 9th to June 22nd, 2004
Wildlife Release tally: 2004
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