Wildlife Waystation battles bushwhacking by California DFG

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, May 2000:

ANGELES NATIONAL FOREST, Calif. ––Moving fast on the dubious strength of a scathing report by consultant Diana Grenados, the California Department of Fish and Game on April 7 closed the worldrenowned Wildlife Waystation sanctuary to visitors; ordered it to stop accepting animals and to reduce the sanctuary population, now at about 1,200 animals; and shared copies of the Grenados report with media, days before Wildlife Waystation founder Martine Colette got it––and a week, Colette said, before she got a list of her alleged offenses.

The Los Angeles Times in particular vividly amplified Grenados’ allegation that the Waystation is “a roadside disaster,” which purportedly puts staff and visitors at constant risk from badly caged carnivores and mythical feces-flinging HIV-positive chimpanzees.

Grenados further asserted that the Waystation is dangerously overrun by ground squirrels, wild coyotes, and feral peacocks, whom she said should be “controlled.” Grenados complained that she could smell the 125 resident big cats’ urine, where––like all cats––they marked their territory.

Much was made by media of many “questions” Grenados said she had about accountability, but did not actually ask of Wildlife Waystation assistant director Robert Wenners, who had escorted her on a tour of the facility. Grenados, for instance, questioned the propriety of Colette, 57, living on site––like the chief executives of many major zoos and almost all sanctuaries, and as Colette has for all 23 years the Waystation has existed.

Most of Grenados’ questions might have been quickly answered by a look at the Wildlife Waystation filing of IRS Form 990, but Wenners said she never asked to see it.

Grenados likewise claimed to have unasked questions about veterinary care and drug handling, and about the use of Spanish by purportedly “undocumented” resident workers. She said Wildlife Waystation had neither a parking lot nor an area to receive visitors; though they are small, it has both.

And Grenados had a litany of complaints about the presence of self-mutilating parrots, native birds and reptiles housed with compatible members of non-native species, and other animals who still show the evidence of the neglect and abuse that they endured before coming to the sanctuary.

Grenados seemed wholly unaware that many seemingly odd bird pairings maintain friendships the birds developed in their former situations––sometimes the only stable relationships they had.

When California DFG general counsel Michael R. Valentine on April 14 finally sent Colette a list––of “concerns,” rather than charges––it made no direct mention of Grenados and omitted any mention of most of her assertions. Valentine focused on just two issues: a long-running dispute between Colette and the California DFG over cage design, and activities in drainage areas which hypothetically might affect water quality.

The California DFG has withheld renewal of the Wildlife Waystation operating permits since 1997, while cages have been retrofitted to meet state code as funding becomes available.

Colette recently built a second sanctuary, in Arizona, to give many of the larger animals more space than the present 160-acre site affords. Taking animals there, however, has been delayed since September 1999 by conflicting Arizona Game and Fish Department and USDA inspection rules. This led to Arizona charging Colette with illegal transport of wildlife in March, because she stopped at the Arizona site to treat a sick tiger cub she was bringing to the Waystation from Texas.

The California DFG claims about activities in drainage areas could be made about almost anywhere in Little Tujunga Canyon, where the Waystation is, because the entire ravine is a drainage area. Within it are many other animal facilities––among them a major public riding stable––and the village of Little Tujunga Canyon.

In any event, affirmed San Fernando Valley watermaster Melvin Blevins at an April 15 press conference called by Waystation supporters, “The water is clean, with no problems.” Appointed by the Los Angeles Superior Court, Blevins has inspected the Tujunga waterways for more than 20 years.

There are many reasons why Valentine and the California DFG might wish to forget about the Grenados report.

For example, former Laboratory for Experimental Medicine and Surgery In Primates assistant director Dr. James Mahoney flew to Los Angeles from New York to tell media that there are no HIV-positive nonhuman primates at the Waystation. Mahoney personally delivered the LEMSIP chimp colony to the Waystation after New York University quit funding the lab in 1975.

Also of concern to the California DFG may be that it has no jurisdiction and Grenados has no credentials to be looking into the many aspects of health, safety, and accountability upon which she ventured comment. Colette told ANIMAL PEOPLE t h a t she had a strong pro bono legal team of Waystation supporters already on the case.

In addition, Grenados’ concluding three paragraphs call for “a concerted effort in interagency support,” urge that Colette’s “federal permit should be revoked,” and include other language which––in view of her many unsubstantiated accusations––could be taken as a recommendation that the agencies should commit conspiracy.

ANIMAL PEOPLE obtained perspectives on the Grenados report from many other people with experience as either animal care facility inspectors or inspectees. Each agreed that as former California DFG investigator Carroll Cox put it, “This could cost some DFG people their jobs.”

Cox, as a California DFG employee, frequently took animals who were confiscated from illegal owners and traffickers to Wildlife Waystation for longterm care. The California DFG continued taking animals to the Waystation until just a few years ago.

Others finding the Grenados report bizarre and willing to say so on the record included Wally Swett, of Primarily Primates; Carol Azvestas, of Wild Animal Orphanage; and Sumner Mathis, of Sarasota In Defense of Animals. All serve with Colette on the board of the American Sanctuary Association.

Grenados was operations manager and collections director at the Lindsay Wildlife Museum in Walnut Creek, California, 1984- 1999. Part of her job was managing a “lending library” of about 80 small mammals such as rabbits and guinea pigs. For $5.00, children could take the animals home for 48 hours.

Grenados left the Lindsay Wildlife Museum in mid-1999 for undisclosed reasons. In October 1999 she registered the “fictitious business name” Native Bird Connections in Alameda and Contra Costa counties.

The current controversy coincides with the resignation from the Waystation board of five-year member Kathy Riordan, daughter of Los Angeles mayor Richard Riordan. Feuding with Colette since mid-1999, Kathy Riordan reportedly cancelled a November fundraiser at her home that in previous years brought in as much as $100,000.

Offsetting that loss, the Sharon Disney Lund Foundation responded to the uproar by donating $100,000 to the Waystation to make improvements. Lund, who died in 1993, was daughter of Walt Disney.

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