Thursday 20 May 2021

Wildlife Rescue Society of Saskatchewan

In 2006, a group of wildlife rehabilitation professionals established a provincial wildlife rescue association. Animals were being picked up unnecessarily and the rehabbers wanted to stop that happening by establishing a telephone hotline to provide members of the public with advice on what to do about an injured or possibly abandoned animal.

From its humble beginnings, the Wildlife Rescue Society of Saskatchewan has expanded unimaginably. Calls in the last two years have doubled with just under 5,000 calls in 2020. There were days last summer when they received 50 calls in a single day. Bonnie Dell, president of WRSOS, was monitoring the hotline one day this spring and noted 20 major calls involving a beaver, a grey horned owl, a saw-whet owl, a moose, and a goose. 

It’s not just members of the public who are calling in. It’s also municipalities and provincial wildlife conservation officers. “It’s really a community service,” explains Bonnie. “If it weren’t for us, there would be no one to call.” And all this work is being done by volunteers, with help from students in the summer. Here’s how it works. 

Obtaining Help for an Injured or Abandoned Wild Animal 
If you’re concerned about a wild animal, a good place to start looking for help is on the WRSOS website. Wildlife 911 provides detailed information about what to do in a wide variety of different situations, from a bat in the attic to a bird that is unable to fly. The website also provides tips on when to call the hotline (e.g., the animal is bleeding or a dead parent is lying nearby). 

Volunteers answer calls on the WRSOS hotline (306-242-7177) 12 hours a day, 365 days a year. Leave a message and your call will be answered immediately. “You’ll rarely wait more than 10-15 minutes for a call back,” Bonnie says. 

Volunteers have received training and can assist you in deciding what needs to be done. The Society has over 150 volunteers from every part of the province who go out of their way to capture and transport sick or injured animals. It’s a huge undertaking as the need is often urgent. Some volunteers are driving up to 10,000 km a year. 

Rescued animals are taken to a designated veterinary clinic or to a licensed wildlife rehabilitation professional. The veterinary clinics generously provide their services free of charge as do the wildlife rehabbers. It can still be an expensive proposition with some animals requiring surgery while others are over-wintered and eat enormous amounts of food. 

The volunteer’s role is often demanding. “There are things I’ve seen and done that haunt me,” Bonnie says. “But I also know I’ve saved a lot of suffering that was caused by human activity.” And sometimes, when things work out, volunteers have the ultimate reward of returning a rescued animal to the wild. 

A Job for Professionals 
The individuals who run wildlife rehabilitation facilities are professionals. They’ve received extensive training and are licensed by the provincial government. It may look like an easy task and you may be tempted to look after an injured animal yourself, but it can go very, very wrong. Young rabbits and deer may appear to be abandoned, but their mothers have deliberately left their babies in a safe place while they go off to look for food. Animals can die if you don’t feed them the right food. A moose calf will grow up and no longer fit in your spare room but will have to be euthanized as it’s unfit to return to the wild. One family tried to raise a turkey vulture, then dumped it on the side of the road with a pile of food. The bird had a badly broken wing, was too far gone to be rescued, and had to be euthanized. 

Peaceful Coexistence 
A condo association in Saskatoon kills any wildlife that comes on their property. A farmer who shot a coyote in the winter using lead shot also poisoned two bald eagles who fed on the carcass. Gophers are a keystone species and an important part of the food chain for larger wildlife, and yet municipalities consistently poison them because the burrows may damage lawn mowers. 

“Phone us before reaching for poison or a gun,” Bonnie pleads. “We’ll help you come up with a plan to help you coexist. Everything has a place. We can live with animals in cities, at the lake, and in rural areas.” 

We slaughter coyotes in Saskatchewan, and Bonnie believes it’s got to stop. Coyotes are another keystone species and help maintain a balance in nature. Studies have shown that 88% of their diet is rodents so we should be happy to see them on our farms. And killing a coyote can exacerbate the problem. “If you have a family of coyotes on your land, you won’t have a problem as they’ll teach their young how to coexist,” Bonnie says. “But kill that established family unit and you’ll get newcomers on your land that haven’t learned their boundaries.” 

WRSOS volunteers are currently receiving canid response training from Coyote Watch Canada and expect to be the first province with fully trained volunteers to help Saskatchewan residents coexist with foxes and coyotes. “We have people all over the province who can help you resolve a problem,” Bonnie says. 

Lend a Hand 
The WRSOS welcomes new volunteers and will try and identify a role that individuals are comfortable with. For example, you may be prepared to drive but don’t want to handle animals. Training is provided. Volunteers sign up for 4-hour shifts on either the hotline or wildlife rescue. In the busy summer season, the Society applies for grants so that the phone line can be run by summer students while the volunteers are assigned to wildlife rescue. 

Money as well as time is hugely appreciated. WRSOS relies on donations to cover costs associated with the hotline, summer student wages, rescue equipment, and educational initiatives, so give generously. 

Photo Credits: WRSOS

See Also 

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