Beyond Your Backyard: What Rehabbers Do 🦊🐺🐰🐿🦅🐦🦆🦉🐻
Kimberly J. Epp
Last weekend, I organized a small tour from Moose Jaw to Saskatoon, on behalf of the Moose Jaw Nature Society. We visited the Bandit Ranch Rehab, Living Sky Wildlife Rehab, Beaver Creek Conservation Area - amongst other stops - making for a long but enjoyable day.
We first met Bandit Ranch Rehab owner, Hayley Heslen, currently the sole rehabber of raccoons in the province. She showed us her facility and gave us the rundown on the rehabilitation of orphaned raccoon kits. She has rehabbed 54 raccoons to date. If you can imagine, that includes over 2,309 bottles given and washed.
Once old enough, the raccoons go to a second facility in the country - where they learn to be wild, before finally being released to a safe and designated area.
Later, we visited Jan Shadick at Living Sky Wildlife Rehab. She first showed us her indoor facility, and then her outdoor enclosures. Later, we even got to see two adorable orphaned fox kits she was bottle-feeding. She also showed us two blind Thirteen-lined Ground Squirrels, blinded from being fed cow's milk. Each animal requires a different kind of milk or food. Specially formulated milk powder is ordered in from the States for several species, and it's not cheap! Cows milk is just for baby cows.
The ground squirrels are the 'poster children' of what not to do, and so are passing that message on as they visit schools and other venues. Luckily, these ground squirrels are able to self-repair, to some extent, their own eyesight, and so have regained just a small bit of sight back - not enough however to be returned to the wild. If unable to be released, they will be kept for educational purposes.
Please, never attempt to rehabilitate an animal on your own. Leave it to the experts. Several years ago, a red fox became blind after being fed cat food. The lady only meant well, but her well-meaning heart caused unnecessary blindness, and an animal that could never again be returned to the wild.
It had been a sad start to the Spring season at Living Sky when a starving great blue heron had been brought in - unable to find food due to such a late Spring season. Despite a valiant effort, the heron didn't make it. Being a rehabber brings joy in successful releases, but also sadness when forces of nature take over. No animal is ever given up on, and animals are only euthanized if suffering - and with no hope for recovery.
Both organizations, as well as others throughout the province, also rely on the help of volunteers. In some cases, summer students are hired through grants. Most places start small, then end up needing to move to larger areas when more and more animals are brought in. Jan bought a house with a large yard for cages and enclosures. Dr. Melanie Blager of Moose Jaw's "Wild and Cared Free Wildlife Rehab" started rehabbing in her home, then she needed to buy a place in the country to keep up with the demand.
Many of the orphans brought in to rehab centres aren't really orphaned. Mammal mothers, for example, often leave their young for short periods of time to go and feed. The mothers are, however, never usually far off. That's why its so important to be sure. When in doubt, call the wildlife hotline of the Wildlife Rehabilitation Society of SK at (306) 242-7177.
So how do baby animals become orphaned? Sadly, usually because of humans. Fireworks, balloons, careless drivers, outdoor cats, rodent poison, littering, hunting, trapping are all of the common causes. Only occasionally forces of nature are of cause. So it's so important to support the wildlife rehabbers who help them. They rely on donations from people like you.
Bandit Ranch Rehab, Living Sky Wildlife Rehab and Wild and Cared Free Rehab all have Facebook pages you can visit for information on donating. Remember that your actions could cause an animal to become injured or orphaned. So keep your cats inside, never release balloons or lanterns, don't put out poison or traps - and remember that we aren't the only species that deserves to live on this earth. 🐾
Epp is an environmental educator and writer and is also the President of the Moose Jaw Nature Society. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.