Wildlife rehab crisis
by Sheri-Lynne Ljucovic
No pay. Piles of
paperwork. Late nights. Strict rules of operation. Little
thanks. Not exactly how most of us would want to spend our
free time. But for the one hundred licensed wildlife custodians
in Ontario, it's their love of animals and desire to give
back to their communities that compel them to do this hands-on
and satisfying work.
offer a valuable service by providing wildlife rehabilitation
across Ontario. They take in wild animals that are believed
to be unable to survive in their natural habitat, because
they are injured, sick or orphaned, and provide them with
the necessary care to facilitate their successful return
to the wild in a socially acceptable and responsible manner.
However, new regulations
being implemented by the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources
(MNR) make "responsible" rehabilitation a contradiction
1, 2005 the MNR is launching new regulations and restrictions
on wildlife custodians province-wide. Many of these changes
have already been in place for Eastern Ontario, since the
rabies scare in 2002. This has created a crisis for wildlife
rehabilitation in that area, with some of the few wildlife
custodians available turning in their licenses because they
found the regulations "unworkable."
could not be carried out responsibly under the new rules,"
said Selena Walker, former wildlife custodian from Stittsville,
ON. "These regulations do not meet international standards
for wildlife rehab."
The proposed "improvements"
With those orphaned
babies in mind, the limitations being imposed on the acceptance,
care and release of these and other animals just doesn't
Any single orphan
would have to be raised alone in violation of international
and humane standards, creating habituated "pets"
that are dependent on humans-the utter antithesis to proper
"We get more
orphans than injured wildlife to care for," said Debbie
Dumelie-Beacon of the Beacon of Light Animal Rescue, who
has been involved in wildlife rehab for over 20 years. "And
it's a five to six month commitment caring for orphaned
raccoons before they can be released into the wild."
all this care, money and time are spent on these animals,
it is illogical to release orphans within an unsuitable
environment-whether it's one kilometre or five kilometres
from where they were found," said Walker.
While it is fully
accepted that adult wildlife should be returned to their
familiar territory, orphaned wildlife have no established
territory as they are still within the nest or den when
rescued. And the majority become orphans as a result of
the adult mother having been trapped and relocated, or killed
on a busy road. Putting young animals, after months of rehabilitative
care, back into these situations would be irresponsible,
giving them no chance of survival.
volunteer help and available care
Given the few they
are able to save, "and we can't save all of them,"
said Mary Catharine Kuruziak of the Niagara Wildlife Haven,
the restrictions now being placed on volunteers will also
greatly affect the number of wildlife being cared for.
used to increase the number of animals they rescued by finding
homes with foster care families. Volunteers would be given
detailed instructions on the feeding and handling of the
wildlife. "Volunteer hands are an extension of our
hands," said Kuruziak.
Under these new
conditions, volunteers will still be able to help with wildlife,
but only at the custodian's location. This means that the
wildlife custodian can only accept a limited number of animals
into their care, based on available space. "So when
we're full, we're full," said Kuruziak.
After that, animals
will have to be turned away and left to starve, suffer or
be euthanized. However, a caring public will not find those
options agreeable, leading to a growing number of untrained,
but well-intentioned people taking wildlife into their own
homes. Yet compassion alone is not enough. These people
will not know proper dietary, housing and handling requirements,
how to prevent animal deaths or how to protect themselves
from diseases. This is exactly the situation that the government
is trying to stamp out with these regulations-the so-called
In fact, it is illegal
to have a wild animal in your care or to raise them yourself.
Wildlife custodians are authorized under the Fish and Wildlife
Conservation Act; not abiding by these laws is an offence.
deal with these offences differently," said Cumby.
The act does have a non-commercial fine set at $25,000,
"but no one will be slapped with a huge fine."
So these animals
must be handed over to a licensed wildlife custodian-but
there just aren't enough custodians to meet demand. To fill
this gap, one option is to encourage "current foster
care providers to become authorized wildlife custodians,"
said Beacon. "Yet to be honest, under these new regulations,
I see even more custodians turning in their licenses."
The MNR also provides
no funds or resources to rehabilitators, so most custodians
work out of their own homes, hoping for small donations.
"And there is some cost to the training required, but
it also shows a level of commitment," said Kuruziak.
In the meantime,
this will continue to create problems for individuals seeking
assistance, as well as for those they now turn to for help-Ontario's
humane societies and veterinarians. These groups are unable
to provide assistance for wildlife and should not be expected
to. These groups are dedicated to saving lives, but have
been placed in the appalling position of having to euthanize
falling on deaf ears
The proposed regulations
will affect many groups, as well as the wildlife they are
trying to protect. It's already been the case in Eastern
Ontario. And in spite of two years of strong public protest,
during which time the Ontario Liberals (while in Opposition)
presented petitions from 9,000 residents in 260 communities
demanding changes, these new regulations introduced by the
McGuinty Liberals, in fact, make matters worse. And it makes
is the timing and handling of this process. It was done,
"just a week before Christmas, with little time for
public comment, without consultation with the majority of
wildlife rehabilitators, and with parliament conveniently
recessed until March 2005," said Barry MacKay, Canadian
representative for the Animal Protection Institute in a
release. As a result, there was no political opposition
available to argue this highly contentious issue, and it
left the public very little time to learn of it and add
their voices to the protest.
needs to be resolved
As humans continue
to expand into and destroy wildlife habitat, conflict between
humans and wildlife will grow. And when humans and wildlife
collide, it's the wildlife that suffers. Rehabilitation
gives these animals a second chance to live free in their
It seems everyone
involved needs to pause, take a step back and find a way
to make regulations governing wildlife rehabilitation work
for the benefit of all-wildlife included. This issue is
far from being resolved.
must simply adopt the standards governing wildlife
rehabilitation care and release that prevail throughout
North America: Orphaned wildlife should be raised
with others of their own species to learn proper con-specific
social behaviours. The group should then be released
in appropriate natural areas, with transitional care
for those species that require it, generally within
the city or county of origin.
This is an original story,
first published in The Country Connection Magazine,
Issue 49, Spring 2005. Copyright Sheri-Lynne Ljucovic.
TO STORY INDEX
TO BACK ISSUE PAGE