Social distancing protocols have reduced volunteers at the Medicine River Wildlife Centre to a skeleton crew.
Executive director Carol Kelly fears becoming overwhelmed with furry, feathery patients unless central Albertans take preventative actions to help reduce wildlife injuries.
These days, she said her only helper at the Spruce View-area wildlife hospital is her husband, who’s off work, so he can lend a hand.
His help will especially be needed in May, when young animals are born and when things typically start getting busy at the centre.
On one busy summer day a few years ago, Kelly admitted 52 patients. The daily average for the May-to-August period is 15 to 20 injured animals — which would still be hard for two people to handle, she added.
The animal hospital that’s recently moved into a new facility had to cancel all of its revenue boosting educational programs, due to the COVID-19 virus.
Kelly said the centre will also have to operate without the usual summertime volunteers who have come from as far as New Zealand to learn about animal rehabilitation.
When COVID-19 fears ramped up last month, she turned back eight interns who signed up to help out this summer from places such as New Mexico and Nova Scotia.
Many of them “really wanted to be here,” said Kelly. But she feels the volunteer program would have been impossible to co-ordinate with the U.S. border closure, reduced trans-Canada flights, and social distancing protocols against COVID-19.
She’s hoping to accommodate some volunteers later in the summer, but it will depend on when the pandemic tapers off.
Meanwhile, the centre’s Facebook page will begin listing a suggestion a day for central Albertans who want to take preventative measures to help reduce wildlife injuries.
Recommendations that will be posted, starting next week, include watching for nests before trimming tree branches, and adding a special dotted film to windows to prevent birds from flying into the glass.
Kelly said residents should also seal off any small nooks in their trailers or yards to prevent birds from nesting in inopportune spots.
The best human precautions won’t keep a hawk from flying into electrical wires or into the side of a truck. When this happens, Kelley said she will instruct people by phone.
The injured animals will likely have to be driven to the centre, said Kelly, who noted the Kerry Wood Nature Centre is now temporarily closed.
Also, a local volunteer can no longer ferry injured wildlife from Red Deer to the centre, as he’s at high risk of having a serious reaction to COVID-19.
Kelley cautions area residents to leave most baby deer and rabbits alone, since their parents will usually return for them in a few hours. But she’s ready to find new parents for actual orphans.
Bird chicks can be placed into other nests of the same species, and are usually accepted, she said.
And deer, moose and coyote young can also be adopted. Kelly said she’s played audio recordings of a fawn in distress in the woods, and the sounds have attracted does who have accepted the orphan fawns as their own.