Simply described, Martine Colette, Founder and Director of the Wildlife Waystation, is a very determined woman…with one mission that motivates her actions each day and has inspired her deeply since childhood. That mission, of course is the care and safety of wild and exotic animals the world over. Lofty though it may seem, Colette has managed to make a difference – a big difference.
Born in France, the daughter of a Belgian diplomat, Colette knew no consistent home life. The pixie blonde, escorted by her parents, traveled the world often to third world countries. A daddy’s girl by nature, Martine thoroughly enjoyed tagging along with her father, a naturalist, who often took safaris into the bush to observe wild animals.
“Going off with Dad meant tremendous freedom…from Mom,” who made her wear ballet shoes, take music lessons and mind her manners, Martine recalls. “Dad on the other hand was the kind of person who would buy a snake to save it from Asian vendors and tip natives for bringing in sick or injured animals.”
It was during those years of observing the plight of animals and their mistreatment in hunting and trapping camps that Martine discovered her life’s calling.
“As soon as the village people realized I liked animals, everyone began bringing their offerings to us,” recalls Colette. “Some wanted assistance with ill animals and others just wanted to give me a gift.”
“Back in those days we had no veterinarians and very little in the way of medicine to help sick animals,” she recalls. “Our basics were penicillin, iodine, tincture of violet, sulfur powders and goat’s milk. If these did not work, the animals died. I got very proficient at diagnosing basic situations and giving treatment. There’s nothing quite like the feeling you get after helping a sick, defenseless animal. Even though they’re deadly predators, there is a real innocence about them.”
In addition to medicinal treatment, Colette also became quite adept at studying and learning specific animal behavioral patterns. This learned ability has enabled her to deal with even larger, more dangerous predators such as bears, primates, lions, tigers, jaguars, leopards, etc.
“It really comes down to observation and common sense,” says Martine. “Once you know a particular species’ behavioral idiosyncrasies and their attack patterns, it’s all a matter of knowing the signs and avoiding undesirable situations.”
Knowledge of Martine’s special gift with animals spread far and wide. So far, that even after she had grown and settled down with a successful Hollywood-based costume design business, people still continued to shower her with animals. Whether these animals were healthy, sick, or injured, somehow they all made their way to Martine’s three-bedroom home.
“I’m quite sure most of my neighbors thought I was certifiably bonkers,” says Colette, “especially when my collection grew to 50-plus animals.”
After more than two years of constantly adjusting her schedule to care for her wild beasts, the ratio of animals to space began to be a problem. It was at that point in 1975 that Martine purchased the Little Tujunga Canyon property, now famous as the Wildlife WayStation.
Shortly after moving to the property, Colette became so involved with saving wild animals that she sold her costume business and used the money to expand her present facility. She established the Wildlife WayStation in 1976 as a non-profit organization.
Today, Martine is Founder and Director of the 160-acre facility that houses 400 plus animals on any given day, and ministers to many more. Since its inception, the WayStation (which got its name from the Old West meaning to rest and refuel) has provided aid and support to more than 75,000 wild and exotic animals from all over the world. The ranch also offers a 24-hour, 7 day-a-week wild animal response service and an education center. The Wildlife WayStation processes an average of 60,000 phone calls per year.
The injured and sick are treated at the ranch veterinary hospital and the healthier animals going through rehabilitation are prepped in a remote canyon environment before being released back into the wild.
In addition to her duties of overseeing a full-time staff of 25 people, a volunteer staff of 40-45 and approximately 275 part-time volunteers, Martine is also the designated wild animal expert for the city of Los Angeles.
For years, as more and more wildlife areas are encroached upon, Colette has been actively involved in the rescue of displaced wild animals that make their way into domestic neighborhoods.
“Opossums don’t know any better than to eat out of people’s garbage and hide in their backyards,” says Colette. “What would you do to survive if your natural home was just destroyed one day? Some people feel threatened co-existing with animals. But all the animal is trying to do is stay alive.”
In addition to traveling all over the United States to pick up wild animals that have been rescued and are in need of a temporary or permanent home, Colette has made it her personal mission to play an active part in local rescues in an attempt to save displaced animals from almost certain death.
In short, there are rarely enough hours in a day for Martine Colette and her Wildlife WayStation.