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MailTribune.com
  • Old fire hoses are animals' playthings

    Old, donated fire hoses give captive wildlife in Merlin playful habitats, rehabilitation tools
  • MERLIN — After spending the past dozen years lounging away his days as a captive bobcat that can never be returned to the wild, Rufus is lazing in new style at Wildlife Images Rehabilitation and Education Center.
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  • MERLIN — After spending the past dozen years lounging away his days as a captive bobcat that can never be returned to the wild, Rufus is lazing in new style at Wildlife Images Rehabilitation and Education Center.
    He now spends much of his day swinging in a hammock woven from recycled fire hoses donated by local firefighting agencies.
    "It's a hammock," says Tracy Higgs, the center's animal-care supervisor. "What's not to love about a hammock?"
    The captive life has improved for two cougars, a river otter, a coati and a skunk who also have a bit of firehouse chic, thanks to a partnership with local fire agencies.
    In the past six months, Medford Fire-Rescue and Ashland Fire & Rescue have donated old fire hoses, which Wildlife Images employees have woven into hammocks for these animals as well as large play balls for the cougars.
    The Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest was the latest benefactor when its ranger districts chipped in more than 1,000 feet of hoses Friday.
    Some of the hoses are big enough to build hammocks that two grizzlies and two black bears can share with their respective pen-mates. Four wolves are awaiting delivery of fire-hose day-beds.
    Other hoses are small enough to craft into creative tubes for rehabbing young squirrels and captive chinchillas.
    Even Nubs the resident badger could end up with a fire-hose maze for his entertainment.
    If the bobcats are any barometer, chances are the psychedelic contraptions crafted from the red, green and yellow hoses will create fine entertainment.
    "We've very fortunate they continue to be entertained by them," Higgs says.
    But there's far more to this than the center finding good use for an odd donation.
    The hose works have become a new and apparently lasting tool in what those who manage captive wildlife call enrichment.
    Just like when animals investigate women's perfume sprayed for them in a corner or discover a PVC tube buzzing with crickets, these new things introduced into their cages break up the monotony of captive life, Wildlife Images Executive Director David Siddon says.
    "Anything we can do in the animals' habitat to keep them interested is considered enrichment," Siddon says. "Anything that makes them active and interested."
    Zoos elsewhere in the country have been experimenting with old fire hoses as animal toys or furniture, discovering that the mix of rubber composites and synthetic polyester weaves prove durable without being harmful if chewed on or ingested, Siddon says.
    "The zoos kind of field-tested it to know it's safe," he says. "It's pretty amazing material."
    About six months ago, Wildlife Images built a prototype hammock for the resident coati, a Brazilian aardvark not legal for release here. The next two went to the bobcats.
    That's where weekend volunteer Sheila Colyer noticed them. She also happens to be the assistant wildlife biologist for the Cascades Ranger District of the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest.
    "I thought, well, we have tons of old fire hose in our district," Colyer says.
    She started schlepping unused hoses to Wildlife Images during her volunteer visits, then asked the Applegate and Ashland-based districts whether they had any excess hoses.
    "So far we've got 10,000 feet, at least," Colyer says.
    Wildlife Images staff needs to find imaginative ways to find enrichment for their permanent residents, like Rufus.
    He was illegally snatched from the wilds as an infant by a Summer Lake man, who illegally kept it as a pet. Wildlife agents seized Rufus three months later, but it was already too late to return him to the wild.
    He knows no other life than Wildlife Images, where this latest hosing clearly is his best.
    "It makes their lives better and their days more interesting," Siddon says.
    Reach reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470, or email at mfreeman@mailtribune.com.
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