Todd Kelly, facility manager at the Medicine River Wildlife Centre, holds an injured golden eagle. (Photo by Lana Michelin/Advocate staff)

Todd Kelly, facility manager at the Medicine River Wildlife Centre, holds an injured golden eagle. (Photo by Lana Michelin/Advocate staff)

Medicine River Wildlife Centre makes gains in 2022, despite avian flu

More successful cases and more donations leave centre on better footing

Some ice-stranded grebes and fox kits with avian flu are just some of the cases that kept wildlife rescue workers at the Medicine River Wildlife Centre hopping in 2022.

But all-in-all, this was a pretty good year at the Spruce View-area centre, says executive director Carol Kelly.

She was heartened to see that the resolution rate for sick or injured animals and animal-human conflicts actually went up to 69.5 per cent from a previous 60 per cent.

Also, construction of the animal hospital was finally finished, due to many generous donations.

“Donors have been steady and are keeping us afloat,” she said. This includes money from estate gifts that allowed Kelly to replay three-quarters of what was still owing on land purchases, so “we were able to reduce our debt.”

The next stage in capital upgrades at the centre is finishing building the new raptor compound for birds of prey.

Kelly noted the old enclosure was so dilapidated that staff were feeding an extra eagle one morning — a healthy eagle had found its way into the pen through a hole in the roof.

The new metal-clad, solar-powered Raptor Compound will bring 10 cages under one roof. It is mostly paid for — although some more money will have to be found in the New Year to finish the project, said Kelly.

She hopes 2023 will mean the start of construction of a long-awaited $800,000 interpretive centre for the Medicine River Wildlife Centre.

Members of the public have been clamouring for more wildlife education programs, added Kelly, who plans to approach benefactors who previously said they were interested in supporting learning-based projects. She also will be looking for applicable government grants.

Last summer, four “excellent” internship students came to learn animal rehabilitation at the Spruce View-area centre, said Kelly. These were people who planned a career in animal health. “They were devoted.”

And there was much for them to tackle, with the fatal avian flu sickening many birds and waterfowl.

Kelly said the centre prepared by creating a quarantine room and reading a lot of information about the avian flu.

Although the centre couldn’t save infected birds from the fatal illness, Kelly said three fox kits were revived, out of the five kits that had been brought in after eating diseased bird carcasses.

Among the other animal emergencies were grebes, loons and a couple of swans that were stranded in central Alberta rather than taking off for their usual fall migration.

Ice had coated the top of some ponds during the sudden onset of winter, and “grebes have to run across open water to take flight,” said Kelly.

Medicine River workers waited for warmer weather and then brought these birds to permanently open water at the Dickson Dam — and the feathered fliers took to the sky within 48 hours.

Kelly expects more animal blights in 2023 —including the possible influx of white-nose syndrome in bats. It’s caused by a fungus that’s already killed thousands of bats in Eastern Canada and is now spreading west.

Kelly fears the mosquito population will thrive if the same happens here.

But if the fungus makes an appearance in central Alberta, Kelly said the centre has its quarantine room ready.



lmichelin@reddeeradvocate.com

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