A large golden eagle was brought into the Eastern Sierra Wildlife Care facility nestled at the base of the Sierra foothills a few weeks ago, unable to walk and riddled with parasites.
It’s early morning, but the center’s director, Cindy Kamler, has been up for hours, hoping against the grim outcome for this bird that her vast experience tells her is likely, given the eagle’s injuries.
She cradles the giant bird in her arms, prepping it to be cleaned, talking to it the entire time. Behind her, the tiny mobile home that she was able to afford as an office in 2007 is piled high with shelves of medicines, animal cages, charts, and a big refrigerator that keeps the mealworms for the other birds alive and medicine unspoiled.
“That’s it sweetie, that’s it,” she says, turning the big beak to the right, so that her assistant can help clean the eagle’s posterior.
She takes a gentle tug on one of the bird’s sharp, gold talons, trying to see if the eagle has regained any movement.
The eagle twitches its foot in response, its big dark eyes intent, watching her. It hasn’t been able to move from the mid-spine down and while it’s a reach to say the bird trusts her, it at least is not struggling or striking out with its lethal beak.
“Oh, that’s good sweetie,” she says. “That’s good.”
She turns to her assistant and says, “She didn’t show any pain response yesterday. This is an improvement.
“Maybe you’ll be one of our miracles,” she says to the eagle.
Thirty years of care
It’s only the first few weeks of Kamler’s 30th spring season taking care of the Eastern Sierra’s hurt or abandoned wildlife, and she is already tired.
Spring is “baby season” in Kamler’s world in the slow-greening hills above Keough’s Hot Springs, and that means waking up dozens of times a night to feed the tiny hummingbirds who can’t go more than 15 minutes without food, or the larger songbirds who can’t go more than 30.
Even the larger mammals that end up at Kamler’s nonprofit Eastern Sierra Wildlife Care facility—foxes, raccoons, squirrels—are almost equally fragile, needing food or medicine every few hours.
There was a time, back when she started the center, back before it handled hundreds of injured, abandoned or disabled Eastside wildlife a year, that she did everything herself.
Today though, the little center has a cadre of volunteers and a few paid staff members who do everything from climb trees to rescue abandoned birds to clean cages and feed hungry mouths.
Nevertheless, Kamler, 74, is the heart and soul of this place and she has learned to live on little to help these helpless, wild creatures.
Kamler said she first came to the Eastern Sierra from the Bay Area just to visit.
Like many others, she “fell in love with the high desert,” she said, and stayed.
From early childhood, she said she always had an affinity for animals, that she felt compassion and empathy for them.
She had trained and worked in the obscure field of wildlife care and rehabilitation for almost a decade and when word of her skills got around, injured animals—mostly birds at first—began to trickle in.
The trickle became a flood and before she knew it, Kamler was working around the clock to keep up with the influx of injured creatures, the vast majority of them hit by cars.
“I knew I could help and I had to,” she said. “Everyone is different about what gives them energy. To me, it’s the earth, and that’s what I wanted to give my energy back to. There are already lots of people helping people. I wanted to help animals.”
She formed the nonprofit, expanding a single-room space in her own home to a mobile home office and recently, almost an acre’s worth of flight cages, pens, runs and more.
She is, her admirers say, a force of nature.
“It’s her compassion that I most notice,” said Kelly Bahr, education and public outreach coordinator for ESWC. “She sees each animal in need of help as an individual that is suffering.”
“I first heard about Cindy many years ago when she moved here and I had found a bird that needed care,” said Linda Arnold, a local resident.
“She was living in this tiny trailer, it was about 8’ by 30,’ and the whole back end was wall to wall boxes of animals. It was amazing to see how she was feeding them and keeping them all warm. I was relieved to have someone to turn to.”
Today, the center has grown exponentially, taking in hundreds of injured animals a year. Kamler, who operates the center under permits and the review of state and federal wildlife authorities, said the center has helped more than 5,000 animals since it became a nonprofit—and the demand continues to grow.
Times have been very tough in the past years, tough for all nonprofits, including Eastern Sierra Wildlife Care, which recently saw one of its biggest donors pull back.
“We are working really hard on getting funding,” Bahr said. “We’ve survived before, we will survive this, too. But yes, these are difficult times.”