More people outside means more human-wildlife interactions
For many Albertans, enjoying nature has been one of the few positives of the coronavirus pandemic.
Whether it’s going for a walk in the river valley or a camping getaway, all that time outside puts people in closer proximity to wildlife – and an Edmonton-based non-profit is feeling the effects.
“We see growth in our numbers every year but this year the growth was monumental,” says Jade Murphy, business expansion manager with Wild North, which rescues injured and orphaned wildlife.
“We see growth in our numbers every year but this year the growth was monumental.”
Murphy (Biological Sciences – Renewable Resources ’16) says June is typically the organization’s busiest month of the year. This June, however, set records for the number of phone calls from people reporting wildlife (+67% compared to last year), animals rescued (+60%) and critters admitted (+10%) to Wild North’s hospital and rehabilitation centre.
Spike in animal encounters
Although it’s hard to definitively blame the pandemic for the uptick, it’s the most logical explanation, Murphy adds.
“I know a lot of people are taking those lunchtime walks, getting outside, taking their dogs out, so they may be coming across wild animals a lot more often than they normally would.”
Evidence appears to support the theory – from the province’s camping reservation system overloading and crashing to retailers of outdoor goods reporting booming sales. Camping on public land has also seen a surge of interest.
That’s translated into more people spotting critters in need of help, such as goslings and baby ducks getting separated from their mommas and wayward hares and squirrels. The majority have been injured or affected in some way by human contact, says Murphy, such as birds hitting windows, or animals getting hit by vehicles, shot at or trapped.
“In June, we were getting about 150 calls a day,” she says.
Fewer helping hands
The spike in numbers coincided with COVID-19 restrictions that forced Wild North to close its doors to about 225 volunteers who help with tasks such as data entry, animal care, transport and facility maintenance. One of the few tasks volunteers could help with was answering the wildlife hotline remotely, which shifted more work to staff and interns. Wild North is only now preparing to welcome back volunteers.
“We’ve had quite a few emails from volunteers chomping at the bit and excited to get back here. They want to help in any way they can.”
The organization has also felt the financial sting from the suspension of grant programs due to COVID-19, but so far it hasn’t been forced to scale back operations.
“Donations are our lifeline, so we had to get creative.”
Like other organizations and businesses, Wild North has pivoted to virtual spaces for things like its education outreach program and fundraising. They held a 50/50 raffle in June and more recently took their annual Edmonton wildlife festival, which is an opportunity to learn about wildlife and enjoy family-friendly events, to virtual spaces.
“Donations are our lifeline, so we had to get creative,” Murphy says. “People seem to be considering us even during these hard times, so we’re thankful for that.”
We have over 30 baby skunk kits in care right now! Many of these skunks had been orphaned because people trapped and removed their mother. Some people may not want skunks on their property, their spray is stinky, we know! But please consider tolerance when it comes to these little families. They are wonderful for pest control (they like to eat mice and even wasps!) and are an important part of our ecosystems. They will move on naturally soon, and then you can take that opportunity to make sure to properly block off denning sites from future skunks. You can then put out deterrents to make your property less attractive to skunks. Trapping and removal is not usually recommended, especially during baby season. If you must, please use passive deterrents to encourage mama skunk to move her babies elsewhere. Skunk babies are going to start going out and about and exploring their environments outside of the den soon. Please give them their space. Skunks will only spray as a last resort when they feel very threatened (their spray is limited and takes time to produce so they do not want to waste it) and will warn you first (stomping their feet, making little grunting sounds, turning around, etc). For any skunk concerns, including deterrent suggestions, please call WILDNorth at 780-914-4118.