July is Wild About Wildlife Month: Featuring Rideau Valley Wildlife Sanctuary #WildWednesday

Wild Wednesday: The pandemic won't stop Rideau Valley Wildlife Sanctuary from rewilding animals 

July is Wild About Wildlife Month: Featuring Rideau Valley Wildlife Sanctuary #WildWednesday

When I was on the phone with Linda Laurus, Executive Director for Rideau Valley Wildlife Sanctuary, she asked me to hold for a moment. I could hear the concern in her voice when she told me she had to check on a squirrel. She could see the squirrel in his cage and was afraid he was injured. After a few moments she came back on the phone and told me everything is alright, he just had some nuts in his mouth. From where she was standing it looked like he was swollen. I couldn't help but laugh, certain I'd just experienced a glimmer of the ups and downs of working with wildlife. 

Located in North Gower, Rideau Valley Wildlife Sanctuary has helped rescue, rehabilitate, and reintroduce around 10,000 animals back into the wild. The Sanctuary admits approximately 1,000 wild mammals and reptiles each year. The team also helps the community learn how to co-existing peacefully with wildlife. Since wildlife adapts to living with us in urban areas, the team prioritizes community education and guidance to help prevent or solve wildlife conflicts using humane, cost-effective solutions.

The Sanctuary team has been helping wildlife recover since they were founded in 2005. The Sanctuary is a not-for-profit corporation and registered charity. They rely primarily on the generosity of the community through donations and volunteerism to recover wildlife in need. Since the pandemic prevented the team from welcoming as many volunteers and hosting the same number of fundraising events as they have in the past, it's now the Sanctuary that needs help recovering. 

July is Wild About Wildlife Month: Featuring Rideau Valley Wildlife Sanctuary #WildWednesday

"Usually during the summer we would be taking advantage of our resource centre, hosting community groups and delivering informational presentations, as well as holding our annual open house in June as fundraising events. This year and last, we have not been able to because of COVID-19," said Laurus. "With more than 850 injured and orphaned wildlife already admitted this year, and hundreds more to come, we have many hungry mouths to feed. We do not receive any government funding, so we rely entirely on grants and donations to continue our work."

Like wildlife unseen in an old-growth forest, the ecological support wildlife rescues provide to our community may fly under the radar. Wildlife conservation has been hit particularly hard during the pandemic and is often overlooked by the media when reporting about people and businesses suffering. The truth is, many only think about wildlife rescues when they need them. When an animal is dropped off at a wildlife sanctuary it doesn't mean "problem solved." It's only the first step in a long road to recovery. Many animals being rehabilitated need continuous care before they are introduced back into the wild. This means ongoing medical care, monitoring, food, and shelter. Rideau Valley Wildlife Sanctuary Marketing Coordinator Paige Arsenault explains how one of their proudest accomplishments of the past year has also put the team in recovery mode.

July is Wild About Wildlife Month: Featuring Rideau Valley Wildlife Sanctuary #WildWednesday

"We are very proud that we could help the same number of animals despite COVID-19 restrictions and fewer donations," said Arsenault. "However, we are in debt because we had to take out the Canadian Emergency Business Account to keep our doors open. As with most rehab centres, we do not receive government funding and rely entirely on grants and donations."

The COVID-19 statistics in the Ottawa area are optimistic, so there is a lot to celebrate during Wild For Wildlife Month. Currently, the Sanctuary will continue to maintain its pandemic safety protocols to ensure its staff and volunteers stay healthy so they can ensure they have enough people to care for the animals. 

"Because of COVID-19, we closed our facilities to the public (people drop off animals outside), installed barriers between feeding stations, and do not accept new weekly volunteers to limit the number of people in the building," Laurus said. 

"We are hoping to re-open to tours and resource centre presentations, and hold our open house in 2022. Tours must be booked in advance, and are best from April to June, to see baby wildlife. Tours are of our indoor rehab centre where people can see wildlife being fed behind one-way viewing windows. Tours of our outdoor facilities are not allowed because animals cannot be on public display to ensure they maintain their wildness."

July is Wild About Wildlife Month: Featuring Rideau Valley Wildlife Sanctuary #WildWednesday

The team is celebrating in spite of the pandemic. The summer is a really important time for them. It's a time when they get to witness their hard work pay off. 

"It's release time, which is one of the most rewarding parts of the job! Some wildlife just needed a helping hand, while others arrived close to death and required intensive treatment to get them back on their feet. Whatever the case, it’s truly incredible to watch as animals take in their new surroundings, explore, climb and forage," said Arsenault. "Knowing that once vulnerable creatures get to go home with a second chance at life is why we continue to do this day after day, year after year."

In spring and summer, many animals get to re-wild! Animals like five orphaned baby eastern grey squirrels who fell from their nest, a young weasel picked up and dropped by a bird, and a fox with a severe case of mange were all reintroduced to the wild this year! This is thanks to the hard work and sacrifices of the Sanctuary team and the generosity of volunteers and community donations. Rehabilitating and re-wilding this many animals is a huge accomplishment any year, but the team should be prouder to have done this during a global pandemic. They never gave up on the animals and risked their health to save wildlife in the community. It's a testament to their compassion for the natural world and dedication to the environment. Animal conservation supports biodiversity and plays a key role in fighting back against species loss and climate change. 

The Sanctuary rescues a variety of wild mammal and reptile species, but they also support their community through education. The more they can raise awareness of what to do when you encounter a possibly orphaned or wounded wild animal, the less likely they are to have animals brought to them that do not require rehabilitation. Arsenault and Laurus shared their expertise and put together the following advice regarding encountering wildlife in the summer.

July is Wild About Wildlife Month: Featuring Rideau Valley Wildlife Sanctuary #WildWednesday

Rideau Valley Wildlife Sanctuary Summer Wildlife Tips

-August is typically when squirrels start to have their second litters. CLICK HERE if you come across baby squirrels to get advice on our website or contact your local rehabber to find out if the animal shows signs of illness or injury, whether it really needs rescuing, how to reunite babies with their mother, and steps to take if they need rescuing. If you have problems with squirrel moms nesting in odd places, also call a rehabber. There are usually easy ways to get mom to move her babies to a backup nest. Also, live-trapping and relocating wildlife more than 1 km in Ontario is illegal and will leave starving babies behind. 

-Rabbits will also have several litters in late summer. In most cases, baby bunnies do not need rescuing and mom is best to raise them for the short 3-4 weeks until they are independent and leave the nest. CLICK HERE for advice from our website about baby wild rabbits.

-The circumstances for rescue are different for different species, so be sure to check our website or contact your local rehabber. We have fact sheets on the most common species found around peoples’ homes.

-A special note about turtles: All Ontario turtle species are now Species at Risk. Reasons include habitat loss, road mortality, and low reproduction rates. Turtles take anywhere from 8 to 25 years to mature and begin laying eggs. Less than 1% of hatchlings make it to adulthood. So saving even one turtle is a true conservation effort. You can help by keeping an eye out for turtles on the road and helping it across the road in the direction it is heading. CLICK HERE for advice about encountering wild turtles. 

July is Wild About Wildlife Month: Featuring Rideau Valley Wildlife Sanctuary #WildWednesday

It's interesting to learn how the Sanctuary helps wildlife in need. The Rideau Valley newsletters can be mailed or viewed online, and introduce the community to animals they saved and share events or fundraising taking place that season. What's more exciting is actually seeing what takes place at the Sanctuary.

"Last year, we created several behind-the-scenes videos of our operations," said Arsenault. CLICK HERE to watch the Rideau Valley Wildlife Sanctuary videos. It's a fun and interactive way to show the community how their donations are being put to work. 

Wildlife rescues like Rideau Valley Wildlife Sanctuary need the community more than ever. You can help by donating, but also by learning more about how to cohabitate with wildlife in your community. The more we know what to do if we encounter a possibly orphaned or injured animal, the more we can reduce unnecessary drop-offs and accidental kidnappings. It means fewer animals that require care in the Sanctuary and wildlife is able to stay wild.  

July is Wild About Wildlife Month: Featuring Rideau Valley Wildlife Sanctuary #WildWednesday

"If you come across injured or orphaned wildlife, learn more about that animal and its natural behaviours, and see what’s normal and what’s not," Laurus said. "By learning more about wildlife, you can prevent problems, identify when an animal needs help, and live peacefully with your wildlife neighbours!"

CLICK HERE to find out how you can make a DONATION to Rideau Valley Wildlife Sanctuary! 

July is Wild About Wildlife Month: Featuring Rideau Valley Wildlife Sanctuary #WildWednesday

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