Medicine River Wildlife Centre held a virtual grand opening for its wildlife hospital on Oct. 17, 2020.
The wildlife hospital cares for injured, orphaned, and compromised wild animals with the goal of returning them to appropriate wild habitats.
MRWC receives a variety of wildlife, ranging from orphaned hares and robins to injured eagles and fox – over 200 species and over 2000 patients annually. Each animal is examined, treated then rehabilitated according to species specific needs before being released into an appropriate environment.
The rehabilitation process starts with admission to the Centre and an initial examination of the patient. Care is taken to keep the environment quiet and low stress for the patients. Stress is the number one killer of wildlife in captivity.
Fluid therapy, using lactated ringers is administered for the first 24 hours to stabilize the animal. MRWC also utilizes some homeopathic and natural remedies to assist in the stabilization. Once these remedies were added to our treatment a few years ago the success rate jumped from 40% to 60%. It seems only sensible to use natural remedies as wildlife would turn to plants and other things in their natural world when they are ill or injured.
Both drug therapy and homeopathy are integrated into the patient’s treatment plan in order to reduce swelling, fight infection and increase the patient’s ability to heal more rapidly.
The majority of MRWC’s patients are either orphaned or displaced young or they have suffered some traumatic injury. Disease is rare. Blood work will be done when necessary. The Centre is capable of doing basic Total Protein and Packed Cell Volume tests. Further testing can be done through the veterinarian. The blood work results determine a treatment plan for each patient admitted.
Some patients may need simple physiotherapy and others may require splinting or surgery. Occasionally, surgery to repair broken bones is necessary and is performed by the Wildlife Centre’s veterinarians in Sundre.
Wildlife Centre staff try to keep handling to a minimum, but still need to monitor a patient’s progress by recording weight, general appearance and activity levels on patient files. Once the initial examination and treatment is done, patients are moved to an appropriate intensive care unit (ICU) and kept warm, dark and quiet. The key to successful rehabilitation of injured wild animals is keeping stress to a minimum. This means that the staff administering the treatment must remain as unobtrusive as possible.
ecovery can take anywhere from two days to two years, depending on the animal, the nature of the injury and their treatment plan. While under the Centre’s care, each patient’s diet is varied according to its particular needs. Generally, songbirds get seed, berries, fruit and insects; raptors get various dead rodents; carnivorous mammals get meat; herbivorous mammals get vegetables, plants and grasses; waterfowl get grain, vegetation or fish.
As the patients grow stronger, they can be moved to larger quarters. Songbirds and waterfowl can be moved out of their ICU into an indoor flight room and waterfowl pond, respectively. Raptors and mammals move from small ICUs to larger indoor cages and finally, to large outdoor pens where they get reacclimatized to the outdoors and start exercising.
Due to the extent of some injuries, not all patients can be released. A very few of these become permanent animals acting as foster parents or companions for young arrivals, are transferred to other rehab facilities or zoos, or become part of our education team. Others must be euthanized. Our success rate is about 60%.
Birds for companionship or education are not commonly kept and must fulfil two requirements before the decision is made to keep them. They must be content in captivity and serve a purpose. We do not keep them simply because they cannot be released.
Release sites are chosen very carefully to provide the appropriate season for release, food source, habitat and so much more. For birds of prey, this may mean returning to the area where they were found, so that they may rejoin a mate and reclaim a territory. Many songbirds and waterfowl can be released on the Wildlife Centre’s property and join in with existing families — either in the woods or on the wetland. Some mammals, such as skunks and coyote, may have to be transported as far away as possible from civilization to ensure they don’t once again become a victim of people’s intolerance.
One kind of release is called Fostering. MRWC has learned from experts like the Alberta Bird Banders and Dr. Gordon Court of Alberta Fish and Wildlife how to foster birds of prey. We continue to work with the Bird Banders to find appropriate nests sites and place orphans with new families.
The success of fostering birds of prey encouraged our Centre to seek other species that might take orphans. We also witnessed fostering happening in a wild situation and were encouraged to duplicate it. To date we have successfully placed songbirds into nests, skunks, coyote and fox into dens, red squirrels into nests, ducklings and geese into families and found adoptive mothers for moose calves and deer fawns. We have successfully transmittered and tracked coyote pups, beaver kits, deer fawns and moose calves to prove that the method is viable.
We have been asked why it is that wild animals and birds will take orphans when many of our domestic animals won’t. We believe it is a natural instinct in wildlife to see that the species continues and if a baby loses its mother then instinctually the others take over and help. Researchers we work with have seen wild fostering happening even in large carnivores such as bear and cougar.
Fostering returns orphans to wild families where they can learn behaviours that we cannot teach in captivity. It also provides them with a natural family, reduces our costs and leaves staff time to care for the injured wildlife.