With the arrival of spring comes a busier time of year for Wildlife Haven Rehabilitation Centre, and their Executive Director says they are getting ready for the rush.

Zoe Nakata says, “Birds are coming back from migration, mammals coming out of hibernation and many babies are being born. So, that coupled with human activity means that a lot of them are going to end up needing care. So, we're recruiting volunteers. We're recruiting staff. We're getting all of our supplies in order to make sure that we're able to respond to that kind of spike in demand because certainly April and then May, June, July are our busiest times of the year. We can have over 300 animals here at any given time. So, you can imagine that makes for a busy campus.”

With that, Nakata tells us why they’ve needed to make some animal intake changes for 2024.

“So, we've had to evaluate our operations and look at the impact of the work that we're putting in, and the way that we use the resources that we have, the donations, volunteer time, all of that. So, our mission is to help conservation, and to protect biodiversity, and so when we looked at invasive species, those are animals that humans introduce to an area who have now kind of taken over, and have grown their population, and that are now living in this habitat where they're not part of the natural ecosystem and biodiversity group of that area, well, this can cause quite a bit of harm to the animals that are native here.”

Nakata identifies invasive species are the rock doves, house sparrows and European Starlings, who have been known to steal our native songbirds' nests and destroy the eggs. “And we know that native songbird's population are in decline, so we want to make sure that we're putting animals back in the wild to mate and to thrive as a species that is conducive to biodiversity protection.”

Nakata adds that releasing invasive species is not conducive to our mission, so they have put a moratorium on invasive species. “So, that means we have stopped treating any invasive species and we'll really concentrate our efforts on the animals that really need help in terms of population numbers and species that are naturally part of our local ecosystems.”

Nakata recognizes that not everyone will know which animal is an invasive species, and sometimes end up bringing an invasive species to Wildlife Haven. “So, when a person shows up with one of the animals that we're no longer treating, we're going to assess the situation and if the animal that's brought to us is clearly suffering, then we will always offer compassionate euthanasia. We don't want that suffering to be prolonged. And oftentimes, if the animal isn’t doing too badly, then we’ll ask the person to put the animal back out into nature. It's going to be a case-by-case basis, but we are always going to offer compassionate euthanasia to an animal that's suffering, which has been brought to our doorstep.”

Nakata explains that the moratorium on invasive species is a permanent change to their policy manual, one that will be up for review and consideration in the future.

She addresses the three-year pause on the intake of raccoons, saying it was a very difficult decision to make.

Nakata tells us why this was necessary. “Our resources are strained, we've got limited staff, resources limited money for food and medicine, and all this. So again, we're looking at where our resources can be used to have the greatest impact. So, with raccoons, it's a very tricky species to treat. They're actually the animal that carries the most diseases, which can be quite dangerous.”

She continues, “So, treating them is very difficult and costly, for us in terms of being able to keep our staff, volunteers, and other patients safe. The other thing is that while treating raccoons we've always had a very limited capacity for the number of raccoons that we're able to keep, raise and release back to nature. So, our release rate on raccoons was lower than 25% which is much lower than other patients we treat, and yet the cost was the highest of all species that we treat.”

Nakata notes that in communicating with rehab centres across the province and country, they learned that the raccoon is in a state of overpopulation right now. “So as a whole, the raccoon species is not in critical need of rescue. So that's where we said 'Well, you know what if we need to cut somewhere, that's probably the most appropriate place to cut for now.”

Nakata says they will also work with the public and with the wildlife branch and continue to educate them, specifically when it comes to the raccoon, how to prevent injuries to the animal and what to do when someone finds an abandoned raccoon.

She also notes that Wildlife Haven has also limited which animal species are eligible for rescues and pick-ups. However, Nakata clarifies, “I just want to make sure that everybody understands, we are still treating over 170 different species from all over Manitoba. We're just limiting the species, where we have to send out our team members to go pick them up.”

“In the past, you could call us and say, ‘hey, I've got these baby bunnies in my yard, please come pick them up and treat them.’ Or, you know, ‘I’ve got these tiny little songbirds that fell out of their nest’, calls like that put a strain our resources. So, we've decided to limit the pickups to only animals that could really cause harm to a person, either by disease transmission or by actual physical injury. So, we would send out team members to pick up animals like eagles, otters, beavers, and foxes. So, yes, we're still going to offer that service, but for the other animals, we're asking the community to either bring them to Wildlife Haven themselves or to connect with one of our community partners and bring the animal to a designated drop off location.”

"We are quite confident that every animal that needs care can still receive it.”

Nakata adds, “Our team is always available. We're open seven days a week, and when you call us, we will walk you through the situation. First, we'll assess whether or not the animal needs to come into human care, because that's really the last resort for wild animal, and if it's determined that it does needs to come into human care, then we'll walk you through the options to get it here safely.”

She says, with milder weather, people will be spending more time outdoors and will often come upon animals that appear to be in distress. Nakata cautions, “As soon as humans interfere, we're causing stress on the animal. We're taking them away from, you know, if it's a baby, we're taking them away from mom and dad. And so, there's a lot of implications. But I mean the end result is often worth it, though certainly we have a whole lot of strategies for people to help the animal.” 

Nakata encourages people to contact Wildlife Haven if they have questions, “So, we've got some details on our website to help you identify them. But folks are always welcome to call our hotline and we'll be more than happy to walk you through the situation and help you find the best solution.”

2024 marks Wildlife Haven’s 40th anniversary! For 40 years, passionate community members like you have ensured the protection of Manitoba’s wildlife. Together, we’ve treated over 55,000 animals! That’s 55,000 patients receiving a second chance at life in the wild, overcoming obstacles from human-caused injuries and illnesses.

For individuals wishing to donate to the organization, please click the LINK for more details.