Local wildlife rehab groups upset with amended regulations
Standards prohibit organizations from treating more than 20 species
Wednesday, Mar 16, 2011 02:23 pm
The Cochrane Ecological Institute and Wildlife Reserve recently released four bear cubs into the wild after two years of rearing and rehabilitation, something it won’t be able to do again according to Alberta Sustainable Resource Development (SRD).
The provincial government is forbidding the seven wildlife rehabilitation centres in Alberta from treating about a dozen species of animals - including cougars, bears and mountain sheep - and requiring them to euthanize seven species on-site out of concern for human safety.
According to Darcy Whiteside, spokesperson for SRD, the new policy hasn’t been finalized, but he expects it to be complete by the end of 2011.
“We are working on a review on all standards for wildlife centres. These animals present a risk to public safety either through diseases such as Hantavirus and rabies or because they can be habituated to humans,” he said.
“With these animals, there is too much of a public health risk. Releasing a moose, cougar or bear that not only has no fear of humans but actually (connects) us with food is dangerous.”
The government is working with wildlife rehabilitation centres on the review, he added.
Last April, wildlife centres including the Alberta Institute for Wildlife Conservation (AIWC) near Madden and the Cochrane Ecological Institute and Wildlife Reserve, received amended permits stating they would have to euthanize bats, skunks, deer mice, racoons, toads, salamanders and frogs – other than the threatened leopard frog. According to the permit, wolves, coyotes, bears, cougars, lynx, bobcats, moose, elk, caribou, bighorn sheep, mountain goats and bison “will not be rehabilitated and any such animals brought to a rehabilitation facility must be turned over to the Fish and Wildlife Division within 72 hours.”
Wildlife centre representatives say these amendments will lead to the untrained public trying to rehabilitate these animals themselves.
“If people find out we are killing these animals when they are bringing them to us, they are going to try to take care of them in their homes and that is a bigger safety concern than us, as professionals, dealing with them. They are not qualified to take care of these animals,” said Dianne Wittner, founder of AIWC.
“The whole thing is B.S. from beginning to end. These people (from SRD) have never worked in a rehabilitation centre in their lives and are not qualified to make this decision. There is no scientific basis to take these animals way from us.”
Clio Smeeton, president of Cochrane Ecological Institute and Wildlife Reserve, agreed.
“Edmonton is completely divorced from the issue,” she said.
“Is it within the SRD mandate to demand that (these animals) be killed by a non-government organization on behalf of SRD at our own expense? I want an explanation in writing to justify why we are killing these animals because we are funded from the public and I have to tell my donors their money is going to killing these animals – they are going to want to know why.”
Whiteside said the species listed in the permits were chosen based on feedback by biologists, wildlife specialists and experiences in other jurisdictions.
Smeeton said the government is going against the desires of the public because wildlife centres are sustained entirely by donations, meaning people are willing to pay for the service because they think it is important.
Some of the species that wildlife centres are being asked to destroy, including 10 species of amphibians and caribou, are on provincial and federal threatened and endangered species lists, she added.
“They have listed that all frogs and should be killed except the leopard frog, but if frogs are a danger to the public, the leopard frog should be a danger too,” she said.
Wittner said all staff and volunteers at the Institute are vaccinated for rabies, a relatively rare disease.
“Is it ethical to kill all injured or orphaned animals of certain species because there is a chance they may, or may not, suffer from a disease?” asked Smeeton.
“We are not obligated by law to kill perfectly healthy animals and we won’t,” said Wittner.
“We are not prepared to be quiet anymore.”
Both Wittner and Smeeton said wildlife rehabilitation centres are required to provide facility plans to the Province detailing ways to ensure animals have as little contact as possible with humans to avoid habituation.
“Habituation is not an issue. Any wildlife centre that is responsible knows how to prevent habituation,” said Wittner.
“Wildlife rehabilitation centres do not allow animals to become habituated because the goal is to release them back into the wild successfully,” said Smeeton.
Whiteside said the government is aware of these measures, but in relation to the animals listed in the permit, the risk of habituation outweighs the benefit of rehabilitating them.
He also said Fish and Wildlife does not have the facilities to house the larger animals that wildlife centres are required to hand over to them, so these animals will be either released back to the wild or euthanized immediately depending on the severity of their injuries.