Photo | Kris Stewart
Sulphur Creek Nature Center specializes in wildlife education and rehabilitation that serves the Hayward, Castro Valley and San Lorenzo area. Sulphur Creek has been in business for 30 years and is home to over 100 individual animals that represent over 40 different species.
Most of the animals at Sulphur Creek can never go back into the wild due to physical or psychological injuries that prevent them from being able to survive like Wesley, the barn owl.
Wesley was born in the wild. Taken from his nest as an owlet, someone captured him to keep as a pet. As owls become adults, they become aggressive and dangerous. As a result, Wesley is very comfortable around people, so comfortable that he thinks they are owls.
This can pose a risk to the community if Wesley decided to defend his territory against what he thinks are other owls. Wesley will have to spend the rest of his days at Sulphur Creek Naturer Center.
Deborah Varner is a California State University, East Bay alumna and the lead naturalist at Sulphur Creek. Varner says Sulphur Creek is like a home away from home, a sanctuary for those who come to visit.
“You just come here and you feel like you’re in nature even though you’re in the middle of Hayward. You go out to D Street, you’re in downtown, right there but it’s just a little oasis in the city here,” said Varner.
The Hayward Area Recreation and Park District subsidize Sulphur Creek, but Varner says donations are also needed to assist in providing the animals with the things they need.
Each year around the holidays, Sulphur Creeks puts up a Christmas tree inside their Discovery Museum. The tree is filled with ornaments, and on each ornament, there is an item listed on the back.
Members of the community can grab an ornament, purchase the item listed, and then place it under the Christmas tree. Items range from a jar of baby food to feed possums to a bag of dog food. The giving tree allows the community to contribute to the well being of the animals.
“I think places like Sulphur Creek are very important to have in the community because it teaches the community how to better coexist with the wildlife in their areas,” said Nicole Greene, CSUEB alumna and Wildlife Education Director at Sulphur Creek Center.
With 150 active volunteers and 15 staff members, there is always work to be done at Sulphur Creek. Sulphur Creek takes care of 500 to 1000 animals per year.
No animal comes to Sulphur Creek because they’re healthy. All the animals at Sulphur Creek are there because they can’t survive in the wild on their own. Most of the animals are there due to human interference. They’ve seen animals that are caught by cats, hit by cars, caught by glue traps or even electrocuted.
“I think each animal situation can definitely have an element of being really sad. But those that run into humans, human inflicted injuries and illnesses those are probably the most sad to me anyway,” said Naturalist Miranda Britton.
According to Varner, most wild animals end up in your backyard because they’re exploring for food and will more than likely leave within an hour if it’s not hurt. If the animal remains for 2 to 4 hours, chances are that the animal may be hurt. If that is the case, Varner urges that you call Sulphur Creek so they can instruct you on the best way to handle the animal and prepare it to be brought into the rehabilitation facility.
“All wild animals play a role in our ecosystem, animals as small as mosquitoes are necessary pollinators for many plants; to opossums which scavenge rotting fruit and meat acting as nature’s cleanup crew,” said Varner.
Most of the animals cared for at Sulphur Creek are not endangered but most of them come to Sulphur Creek after an encounter with humans or their pets. “Domestic cats are some of the worst culprits when it comes to reasons why small birds and mammals are brought in to the hospital. If humans did not release their pets, these wild animals would be healthy,” said Varner.
Greene says that when it comes to wildlife, the best thing you can do is to leave it alone. “Enjoy it. Respect it and leave it alone. Let it do its thing,” said Greene. “The more of a commitment you make to coexist with the wildlife in your neighborhood, the cooler it can be.”
Sulphur Creek is certified by the United States Department of Fish and Wildlife, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife and also the United States Department of Agriculture.
The Sulphur Creek Nature Center is open to visitors daily, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. except on holidays.