Here it is April 21st, 2020. It’s 36°F, windy, cold and once in a while, snowing! Just a part of the craziness that so far 2020 has thrown our way. Over 6 weeks ago life changed as we know it. Our lives changed but our wildlife, well they continue on with the exception of some things happening earlier than normal. There is no doubt in my mind that 2020 will go down in history as being a memory we would like to forget.
But life goes on. Just differently. Why? It is called Coronavirus or COVID-19. A virus that came from China, a new virus nobody knows anything about. For some, a killer. For all, a worry. Working from home, not going out unless we must, social distancing 2 meters. Hand washing at a new level, sanitizing everything. Staying home so we can stay safe, so we can protect each other. Streets are empty, or are they? Parks are closed, beaches are closed, shopping malls are closed, so many things are closed. So many mass layoffs, shutdowns and jobs lost. Doing our shopping online with either curbside pickups or home delivery only, and for grocery stores, and others who are open, a limited number of people allowed to be in there at one time. Controlling the spread, enforcing social distancing. Cash registers behind plexiglass shields to keep them safe. Wearing masks and gloves. It goes on.
But the streets are not really empty. Wildlife is coming out and walking the empty streets. It is so quiet that they feel safe. They are taking back their spaces. For now.
With strict COVID-19 protocols in place everywhere, life in the wildlife rehabilitation world has been totally shattered. To a degree. Rehabilitation centres such as Procyon, were deemed an essential service so they are allowed to remain open. But inside this centre, Procyon is not the same. It is practically empty except for a few animals. Injured older raccoons or sick, an opossum, rabbit and some bats. All other babies, 80 raccoon babies to date, bunnies, squirrels, and a very tiny porcupine are all cared for by fosters at their homes.
Under the Ministry of Natural Resources rules, not just anyone can foster. In order to foster, the custodian, such as an organization like Procyon, makes the decision to allow a volunteer to foster under their license. If the volunteer wants to foster RVS (rabies vector species) animals for the custodian, a written rabies test is required through the MNR. Eyes closed babies are very demanding and need a lot of care. And now a few more have made their way into the centre. Fosters are full. The virus has changed the way Procyon can be run.
Last week a very special patient came in; a flying squirrel who was caught off guard in a windstorm and who surprised us all when she gave birth to 4 bouncing baby flying squirrels shortly after having been admitted! She is an incredible mother and caring for her babies with a mother’s love; she is on meds for her injury, but she is doing well. And her little ones are doing well by her side. She is under foster care, so she is kept quiet to bond with her babies. But every day is a new day and as with any injuries, there are always risks. So far so good with this precious mother.
I monitor the phone lines now on Wednesday mornings, taking calls from concerned and caring people regarding wildlife. Orphaned babies, questions on what to do with a raccoon in your attic, etc… We are doing the best we can to place those orphans and answer those questions. There are 2 phone shifts a day, 7 days a week handled by different volunteers. We check messages once an hour. Not all centres take eyes closed baby raccoons. And our fosters are to their limit. We have had to find other places to take babies if we can. But Mother Nature is continuing on as per normal. With the exception that babies are being born earlier in a lot of cases.
I know we were wondering how this was going to affect us, not as many cars on the road, not as many people out and about. Would it mean fewer issues with wildlife? Would it mean fewer babies being orphaned? No and no. It is not working that way at all. Unfortunately, it seems people being home, well that means more dogs are in their backyards more often. More cats are out. More early yard work is being done. More rabbit nests are being found. More dogs and cats are getting those babies, injuring, orphaning and even killing the babes in their nests. More baby raccoons with eyes still closed are being found along paths in parks or trails. Assuming moms were ousted from attics and babes left to be found by a passerby or worse. Taken from their mothers and some found dead, or clutching to life with starvation, hypothermia and barely breathing.
I have had 3 shifts on monitoring Procyon’s phone lines to date. And I have talked to some of the most caring people. Some going above and beyond to save a tiny orphaned wildlife baby. And get it to help asap.
Only one or two volunteers are allowed at the centre at a time. Keeping social distancing and wearing protective gear. Babies are getting admitted by appointment only to ensure there is a volunteer there to take them, to make sure they get a thorough examination upon arrival. Working with a skeleton crew is difficult.
A strict protocol is in place for admissions. When you call in, you leave your message as per normal. But when the volunteers call you back, they will get the information from you and will either be able to admit the animal in or will help by giving you other locations that you can call. We are all working together. If we can admit the animal or animals, then paperwork will be done over the phone and the rescuer will be given instructions to follow in order to keep themselves and the volunteer safe when they arrive at the centre. The centre is locked so you must follow instructions and stay in the parking area where the volunteer will come to you to collect the animal as per instructions. So far this is working well and everyone is cooperating.
We can only hope the pandemic will be over soon, however, I’m sure we will remember it for a long, long time if not forever. This has been a very trying time for all. But wild animals have no boundaries and are not doing social distancing. They are not asked to stay home and not visit family. To them, in their little world, it is all the way it always has been. Or is it? The weather being as crazy as it has been with mild temps then cold again, snow rain, sun, snow, hail and all over again. Sometimes in a week, sometimes in a day. It is crazy, to say the least. But babies are already coming in leaps and bounds. Fosters are busy caring for these tiny souls. And time will tell when this COVID-19 will end.
So, if you see a coyote walking down the street in the middle of the day or a fox etc…, don’t worry. They are taking advantage of our staying home. They are enjoying the quiet world they have never seen; they are caring for their young. Something they do very well. They are not out to get you. They are surviving in this ever-changing world we all share.
If you see an animal in need please make that call to a wildlife rehabilitation centre nearest you. We are still here for you. We will do our very best to help. But it will definitely be a different experience.
So while our everyday living has changed, the birds are still migrating, some earlier than before, the flowers are starting to bloom, the butterflies will soon be out if not already, the trees will be bursting in green soon and blossoming to bare fruits. The bees will be busy pollinating. Birds are already nesting and others gathering nesting materials. Baby animals are being born.
Hummingbirds will be back soon looking for their tasty sugar solution. Making your own is the best idea. In fact, is far better than store-bought and more economical. Please do not add food colouring though. That does harm them in time. They will develop a nasty fungus on their tiny tongues that will end up killing them in the end. They do not need red. Boil 4 cups of water, add 1 cup of white sugar, mix, let cool and add to your feeder. Keep the rest covered in the fridge for up to 2 weeks. When we can safely put out hanging plants. Get your plants for them out there and give them natural foods along with your feeder, and plant hummer friendly flowers in your gardens. Baltimore Orioles are 6 parts boiling water to 1 part white sugar. No food colouring and bird jelly from a bird feeder store only. And they love oranges too. So yes, our lives have changed, for now, but theirs has not and that will give us beautiful things to look at while we are in our homes waiting for this all to end.
So look after yourselves, your children, your seniors and your neighbours, do what we are being told to do, watch over our wildlife and their little ones. Watch your dogs and keep your cats inside, which to be perfectly honest should be the norm. Cats are responsible for over 1 million deaths a year in wildlife babies. They should be kept inside. They will also live longer and be safer. We have a screened-in back porch that our cats loved. And so do we. We are all in this together; us, our pets, our families, friends and our wildlife.
But please, do not take on the care of wildlife babies yourself. We have already lost tiny babies because people tried to do it themselves. Ending in death. Ending with very upset rescuers. And upset volunteers too. Because they do not realize that this is a much harder job than one would think for infants so tiny. During this time, we find it difficult as well. We know you mean well. But you do not have the training and experience needed to care for such fragile lives. They need special care, special diets, special heating. Because they are special. They are delicate. Let’s work together to save a life. We are here for you and we are keeping everyone safe with admissions. So don’t be afraid to make that call.
Please don’t kidnap. Soon baby fawns will be coming into this world. They are left by mom while she goes off to graze. They are safe and scent-free. Make sure they really are orphaned. Call us for instructions; we will help you do the right thing. Leave baby bunnies alone as well, since momma goes off to graze leaving them in their safe little nest, scent-free. Unless of course, you know mothers have been killed or they are injured. Together let’s get through this difficult time. Help each other, help our wildlife. Together we will beat COVID-19.
Will life ever be the same? In all honesty. I hope not. I hope we change our ways. Be more aware of our environment, be more mindful of our wildlife and their needs. Be more mindful of our pollution and garbage. Of pesticide use on our lawns. To work together and be kinder to one another. To smile more and be angry less.
Before I end, I have a quote from Crystal Faye, our animal care coordinator who is in the centre most days since this pandemic started:
“Things have been looking quite different at Procyon Wildlife since March, in order to continue to help wildlife, we have to strictly limit the number of volunteers in the building at one time, and do our best to spread the animals out in order to follow the social distancing protocol. We had hoped with more people at home there would be fewer admissions. In fact, the opposite is true. More people being home all day every day are around to hear and see the mothers nesting in their attics. The majority of the orphaned wildlife that has been admitted this year have been displaced by wildlife removal companies. At Procyon, we are always willing to give advice to help encourage wild mothers to move their babies on their own. And hopefully, avoid creating more orphans in need of our care.”
“Just like we are practicing social distancing, please encourage wildlife to do the same. We have had a very high number of animals admitted with canine distemper virus. This disease is fatal. And highly contagious, most often seen in raccoons and skunks. Many come from areas where they are being fed at night. This encourages a large number of animals to gather together in one spot, thus encouraging the spread of disease. Please avoid feeding wildlife so they can social distance and stay healthy”. Thank you Crystal.
For bird feeders, keep them clean underneath so you do not attract any other wildlife. Keep them safe !
For now, however, life goes on. It’s peaceful. And I for one am very proud to be a Canadian. No place else I’d rather be right now. It’s beautiful. It’s challenging and crazy all at the same time. But it’s life. Let’s all put our hearts together for those who have lost loved ones during this pandemic. For those who have lost their jobs. For those who can’t see their families. For those who can’t see the future. For those who struggle.
Help one another and we will all come through this one day at a time. Listen. The birds are chirping, the frogs are singing. Watch. The sunrises and sunsets are incredible. The yipping of coyote families communicating. Fox families barking their little barks, raccoon mothers teaching their little ones, an owl hooting in the distance, etc. We are never alone. These sounds have always been here. But we couldn’t hear them for the noise from everyday living, the busy streets, the loud parties, just to busy to pay attention. But now. Now you can listen and pay attention. Now you have the time. Open your eyes and ears. Pay attention. See and hear that beauty that surrounds you. Take life one day at a time. One step at a time. Because one thing is for sure.
Mother Earth is healing.
Procyon Wildlife Rehabilitation & Education Centre, Beeton
Go to ontariowildliferescue.ca to find a rehabilitation facility nearest you, or call Procyon wildlife at 905.729.0033.