Martine Colette, animal rescuer and director of Wildlife Waystation, dies


Martine Colette, an animal rights activist who founded the sprawling Wildlife Waystation on the doorstep of Angeles National Forest, where thousands of rescued animals — lions, alligators, wolves, owls, pot-bellied pigs and chimpanzees — await new homes, has died at the age of 79 .

For years, the 160-acre sanctuary has served as a model for rescuing exotic animals abandoned by boisterous owners, traveling street attractions and research labs, while Colette was his one-woman tour de force, leading rescue missions and leading Hollywood celebrities to show their… to support cause.

Larger than many city zoos, the sanctuary was a way station for animals that had essentially been disposed of, and Colette became a commanding voice for stricter legislation regulating exotic animal ownership, particularly for those prone to adopt animals from the to bring wilderness for their personal collections.

But the sanctuary finally closed in 2019 after years of financial and regulatory problems. The facility was also severely damaged by the 2017 Creek fire and severe flooding two years later.

Colette, who died Jan. 23 after battling cancer, admitted she poured her time, money and energy into the sanctuary, often at the expense of bookkeeping or adhering to what she often sees as onerous rules felt.

“The way station has always done wonderful things for animals,” she told the Times in 2000. “But business wasn’t our forte.”

For the past two years, the State Department of Fish and Wildlife and the remaining stopover staff and board members have worked to find new homes for more than 500 animals. Eighteen chimpanzees and two hybrid wolfhounds remain at the facility.

Born in France, Colette was the daughter of a Belgian diplomat. She lived most of her childhood in Nairobi, Kenya, where she later worked in trapping camps capturing lions and other exotic animals before shipping them to zoos. She said she was appalled by the conditions the animals endured.

Her first rescue was a mountain lion locked in a small cage at an animal show at the old Pan-Pacific Auditorium in Los Angeles, where she had moved to pursue a career as a Hollywood costume designer. She soon had a yard full of animals, prompting her move to Little Tujunga Canyon Road, where she opened the Wildlife Waystation in 1976.

She took a personal interest in the animals and said that she was often much fonder of them than most people she knew.

There was Mystery, a young chimpanzee whose parents were locked away in a research lab. There was Zair, a lion born after rescuing 27 lions at the halfway house, and tigers from a pen in Idaho where the animals lived in squalor. And there was Shauri-ya Mangu, a baby chimpanzee, roaming freely in her home. She found a new home for everyone.

Over the years the shelter has grown from a small volunteer run sanctuary for abused, abandoned and sick animals to an internationally renowned sanctuary for exotic animals. Funded solely by private donations, the “ranch,” as the staff called it, has been credited with rescuing more than 70,000 animals.

An avid evangelist for wild animals, Colette frequently spoke in schools and hosted field trips to the way station. Strong-willed and sometimes stubborn, Colette says her only interest is improving the lives of animals.

“Obviously I’m firm and direct, difficult at times,” she told the Times. “Some people don’t like that. But what kind of woman do you think it takes to build a place like this?” Martine Colette, animal rescuer and director of Wildlife Waystation, dies

Caroline Bleakley

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