SANTA CLARITA (CNS / FOX 11) - About a dozen big cats were brought back to the Wildlife Waystation in Sylmar Wednesday, four days after they were hastily evacuated as the Sand Fire began raging in the hills nearby.
A convoy of trucks began arriving at the Waystation early in the afternoon as operators returned 10 to 15 lions, tigers and cougars to the 160-acre facility. It's the first wave of animals that are being brought back to the sanctuary.
Spokesman Jerry Brown said all the animals that remained at the facility during the fire and those that were taken to warehouses to wait out the blaze were safe and well cared-for.
Volunteers showed up at the sanctuary on Saturday to help move the animals when the Sand Fire began exploding in size.
The Waystation's residents represented a small fraction of animals displaced by the fire. According to the county Department of Animal Care and Control, there were 837 evacuated animals in area shelters as of Tuesday morning.
The displaced animals included 377 horses, 157 goats, 117 chickens and 34 pigs. Llama, mules, sheep, rabbits, turkeys and donkeys were also among the critters overseen at shelters including the Antelope Valley Fair Grounds, Hansen Dam and Pierce College. Smaller animals such as dogs, cats, rabbits, hamsters and guinea pigs were cared for at county animal shelters in Lancaster, Agoura, Castaic and Palmdale.
DACC Deputy Director Aaron Reyes said staffers were dealing with the "largest emergency situation involving the most animals'' in recent memory.
Reyes said animals were ``slowly but surely'' making their way back to their owners. Among them was a 75-pound tortoise named Pebbles that was left behind because the owner couldn't hoist the animal into the family car when evacuating, news outlets reported.
Deputies were able to rescue Pebbles and bring him to the Castaic Animal Care Center. He has since been reunited with his family, but Reyes said three other tortoises remain at area shelters.
Another famed wildlife sanctuary in the area, the Shambala Preserve run by actress Tippi Hedren, was not evacuated, although Hedren called the fire "demonic.''
"May we never have to witness this display of horror ever again,'' according to Hedren, who said stayed at the preserve despite requests by her staff to evacuate.
"Thank you to all of you who have been standing by us and trying to reach out to us to no avail,'' she said. "All of our power and communication with the outside world has been out since the fire peaked.''
A county spokeswoman said residents looking for ways to help displaced animals can donate to Noah's Legacy.
"We have received many generous donations of feed and supplies for our pets. Many people have asked what more they can do to help,'' DACC Director Marcia Mayeda said. "We are fortunate to have a foundation that has established a fund called Noah's Legacy for emergency response.''
Money from that fund has been used to buy "Ani-safe'' trailers, one of which is being used on the campus of Hart High School to house animals rescued from the fire.
Donations may be made at www.lacountyanimals.org.
From reporter Phil Shuman:
The Wildlife Waystation, deep in Little Tujunga Canyon, is a one of a kind facility that provides sanctuary for hundreds of exotic animals.
Lions, tigers, beers, zebra, you name it.
This past weekend, almost all of them had to be evacuated in a very time consuming labor intensive and expensive process due to the treat of devastation from the fast moving Sand Fire.
You can get a sense of how scary it was from the Friday night photo as part of the web site's home page.
Now, the animals are being moved back in, and the Waystation is in need of financial help to defray some of these unexpected expenses.
If you love animals of all kinds, check it out, if you haven't already.
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