The one question I am most often asked is, “How did Wildlife Images get started?”
Wildlife Images began as much by accident as by plan. My father, who was the founder of Wildlife Images, grew up in a place and at a time that is hard to relate to today. He often described how his childhood was spent in close proximity to a rich variety of native wildlife, including all the things that make a boy’s life wonderful like lizards, bugs, snakes, hawks, and even condors. This wonderland was found in what is currently a wildlife wasteland called the San Fernando Valley, of Los Angeles, California.
As an adult he pursued a career as a writer, photographer, and filmmaker, and traveled the world on various projects, usually centered on his first love: wildlife. His fascination with wildlife followed him his entire life; in fact, I really can’t remember a time when we didn’t have wild animals of some kind at home. We raised baby owls in the laundry room and had golden eagles in the back yard.
In the early 1970s a rare opportunity presented itself to my parents in the form of 17 acres of beautiful property on the bank of the Rogue River. Jumping at the chance to get out of the rat race of Southern California, they bought the land, sight unseen, outside of Grants Pass, Oregon. Securing the necessary permits from the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife and U.S Fish and Wildlife Service seemed to get the word out that there was finally a person in the area that could deal with many of the wildlife problems that had previously fallen through the cracks. In no time animals were appearing from all branches of law enforcement, state and federal agencies, and the general public. Soon he was caring for hundreds of animals each year and funding the entire endeavor out of his own pocket. The exponential growth of this back yard facility was only surpassed by the love my parents had for Southern Oregon.
My parents became rather well known in the Northwest and often appeared with the animals in all kinds of public programs from television shows to school assemblies. Dad definitely had a knack for public speaking and was a natural educator. His bigger-than- life presence and his ability to delight people with his stories of the adventures he had with the creatures he revered are a bit of a legend today. In order to generate the necessary revenue to sustain Wildlife Images, many of the animals throughout the years appeared in commercials and films including one film that was an academy award winner. One of the commercials that became very famous was the Buick series with the hawk that flew to all of the cars and served as the corporate image for Buick. Happy, our red tailed hawk, appeared on the commercials for well over 10 years and the money she generated supported hundreds of animals in the rehabilitation center.
The educational component of Wildlife Images is a product of experiencing first hand the catastrophic changes that occurred in the San Fernando Valley in a relatively short time. This helped temper my father’s resolve to ensure the wildlife of Southern Oregon should not suffer a similar fate.
In 1981, the facility was officially named Wildlife Images Rehabilitation and Education Center and earned its non-profit 501 (C) 3 corporation status as a facility to provide for the care and treatment of sick, injured, and orphaned wildlife indigenous to the Pacific Northwest. Wildlife Images has continued to build its reputation in the community and abroad and is now able to utilize donations to support the needs of the animals.
In 1996, my father, who was losing his battle with cancer, asked if I would consider leaving my job of 12 years at the Oregon Zoo and take over Wildlife Images in order to insure that his dream would not die with him. Later in the year, Dad left the animals and people he loved behind for the last time.
His legacy lives on through the facility he created. My father had many dreams for the future of Wildlife Images and I am going to do my best to bring them to reality. Some of his dreams have been fulfilled, such as the Bald Eagle flight exhibit. Our interpretive center, that he had only dreamed about, is named in his honor and is the centerpiece of the facility. We have also completed an incredible Birds of Prey building, a new education center, a pavilion for public events and an endowment that will assure the future of Wildlife Images. All of these additions were made possible due to the generous donations received from caring individuals. Wildlife Images today is the second largest tourist attraction in the county. In order to stay successful we are not associated with any political organizations and will not incur any debt.
I am very proud of Wildlife Images and our accomplishments and hope it will serve as an inspiration for many generations.