“We can judge the heart of a man by his treatment of animals.”
— German philosopher Immanuel Kant
It was a sight Carol Kelly had never seen in her three decades of saving wildlife — and never wants to again.
In the eyes of the executive director of the Medicine River Wildlife Centre, every one of nature’s creatures is worth saving from sometimes a cruel and prolonged death.
So on Aug. 8 at 7:30 p.m., despite another long day of work at the animal rehab facility, when Mike Murray called on her for help, there was no hesitation.
Murray had come across a dramatic scene — hundreds of dead gulls lay in a chilly field along the Cottonwood Road, between Range Roads 21 and 22, southwest of Red Deer. In among this veritable gull graveyard, some were still alive.
They were the victims of the large hail storm that hit the evening before.
Murray, who travels throughout Red Deer County in his work, first noticed two gulls in the ditch, alive but with broken wings. He thought he would try to save them, get them to the Medicine River Wildlife Centre.
“I always do stuff like that if I see it.” He has taken other injured wildlife to Kelly.
As he entered the muddy field, the situation began to reveal itself.
There were spots where there were 50 or 60 dead gulls in a pile. “It was crazy. There was hundreds of them that were dead.
“I had never seen anything like that before, and I’m working outside all the time.
“I covered quite an area that night and that was the only place I saw birds.”
The ravens were busy cleaning up.
“The Bible … talks about Armageddon and the bodies will be cleaned up by the birds of heaven. That’s exactly what I thought of.
“(The ravens) had hundreds devoured, like they cleaned it up so fast.”
Martin grabbed a gunnysack from his truck, phoned Kelly and began gathering up the birds that were still alive.
The theory is that the two types of gulls involved — ring-billed and Franklin’s — had either been gathered in the field but were unable to get away when the hail hit, or were in the air and knocked out of the skies as they frantically tried to seek shelter.
Murray noted there was a nearby cornfield where all the plants had been completely stripped by the hail.
A woman, whose identity is unknown, stopped to help Murray. They began to put the injured birds into the covered back of her truck. As the birds warmed up, they started to move around more.
Soon, Kelly and another well-known animal rescuer, Judy Boyd from Red Deer, arrived.
By the time Kelly got the poor creatures home, she had 35 of them.
With help from international students working at the rehab centre, they worked for hours wrapping and treating the birds.
Nine had to be euthanized because they were so terribly injured and a couple have died since.
The birds suffered injuries such as eye damage, broken bones and severe bruising.
Before these birds arrived, she was already treating about 20 gulls that had come from Eckville and Red Deer, injured from the same storm system. In Eckville, they counted 88 dead gulls.
“At one point we had 45 live ones in treatment,” said Kelly.
In 30 years, I’ve never seen (hail) do that kind of damage.”
“After severe hail around here, we might get two or three birds with minor fractures or minor bruising. Never, never saw this before.”
Of course, it had to happen when the Medicine River Wildlife Centre has its old hospital torn apart. They are in the middle of building a “state of the art” animal hospital and need to raise another $500,000 to finish the project.
She now has 32 gulls up and about, in their pond, and six or seven more in intensive care.
The birds are healing. Some will be well in a few weeks, others before it’s time to fly south, which can be as late as November if the weather holds. They’ve gone through a lot of smelts. More are on order.
So is it better sometimes to let nature take its course, I ask her.
“In this case, it kind of is nature but on the other hand we do so much damage to the environment.
And these guys are there and need help. We’re going to help.
“And the people who find them absolutely want us to help.
“If I didn’t rehab everything that someone said they don’t like, I wouldn’t be rehabbing anything.
“Do we need to put a judgment on it and say this animal is worthy and this is not? Everything is worthy in our eyes, and we try with everything we get in here.”