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Apr 29, 2024

8 min. read

Text by Paul Gains.

IT MAY BE TOUGH OUT THERE IN THE WILD, but the spots where birds and animals cross paths with civilization pose more challenges due to traffic, power lines and urban sprawl. Fortunately, devoted wildlife rehabilitation centres step up to care for the sick and injured, going to extraordinary lengths. And it’s donations and volunteers that keep them running, along with a love for the creatures they help.

“We are the only provincial wildlife helpline. No one else in Canada does what we do,” Bonnie Dell says proudly. Although Dell—executive director of the Saskatoon-based Wildlife Rescue Society of Saskatchewan (WRSOS)—and her volunteers don’t always handle wildlife directly, their role is pivotal.

“We have one phone number for the whole province that people can call,” she says, “and we can answer wildlife questions, help with wildlife conflicts and, if they have injured or orphaned animals, we can help.”

First, the team determines if an animal is truly in need of assistance. Deer, for instance, will often leave fawns unattended for hours while foraging, which prompts well-intentioned but unwarranted rescue calls. Trained volunteers decide if the animal requires help and, if it does, which licensed rehabilitation centre or veterinarian can take it.

All too often, help from WRSOS is needed. Road and building construction that bisects wildlife habitat or interrupts migratory routes leads to auto collisions. Then, there’s disease and the effects of climate change that threaten habitats. Plus, urban expansion brings wild animals and humans into closer contact, which can be harmful for both.

Meet the Wildlife Rehab Heroes Helping Animals Heal This orphaned moose was successfully rehabilitated and released by the Wildlife Rescue Society of Saskatchewan. Photograph courtesy of the Wildlife Rescue Society of Saskatchewan.

At the Alberta Institute for Wildlife Conservation (AIWC), in the hamlet of Madden, a team of volunteer drivers is on standby to rescue a wide range of species—from squirrels to black bears, along with reptiles and amphibians. The team is not permitted to take in coyotes, wolves, cougars and grizzly bears (grizzlies would invariably dig their way out of any outdoor compound).

Collaborating with the University of Guelph in Ontario, AIWC has established an internship that arranges for veterinarians to come and help for set periods of time, letting them gain the experience to move into roles that require wildlife care. “We are really lucky to have a veterinarian on staff,” says Scottie Potter, AIWC’s communications coordinator. There are many rehab centres that do not have that setup, she notes.

Meanwhile, in Manitoba, whose black bear population is estimated at nearly 30,000, the province is fortunate to have Black Bear Rescue Manitoba (BBRM). Judy and Roger Stearns started BBRM in 2018 on their four-hectare property in the town of Stonewall, where they tend to the many orphaned or injured cubs rescued every year.

Three years ago, they treated 32 cubs, which required building an additional 930 square metres to the facility. Fortunately, Roger is in the construction business and was able to enlist the help of friends and volunteers for the project. BBRM relies on donations of dog kibble, milk and fruit to feed the cubs. And although there are a few volunteers, the couple do most of the hands-on work themselves. Human contact with the bears is limited, as the goal is to eventually release them back into the wild.

“We always remember the ones we couldn’t save,” says Roger. “I have sat with them on my lap until they pass away.” No rehabilitation practitioner can save every creature encountered, but each successful recovery-and-release is cause for celebration, and the joy that comes from helping wildlife energizes the next mission.

Meet the Wildlife Rehab Heroes Helping Animals Heal Rescued cubs at Black Bear Rescue Manitoba. Photograph courtesy of Black Bear Rescue Manitoba.


What to do if you find an injured animal in the wild

  • Don’t approach wildlife too closely and keep other people back, as well as pets.

  • Call a licensed rescue centre or local humane society before intervening and let the wildlife rescue experts coach you—they can help determine if an animal needs assistance.

  • Some wildlife rehab centres don’t have enough volunteers and may ask you to bring an injured bird or small animal to them. Keep a blanket and a cardboard box in your car, just in case.


You can reach Black Bear Rescue Manitoba at 204-461-4320. Or try the Wildlife Haven Rehabilitation Centre, which is licensed to rehabilitate injured raptors—including eagles, hawks, owls and falcons—and mammals such as squirrels, coyotes, raccoons and bobcats. They have two drop-off centres in Winnipeg—Bridgwater Veterinary Hospital & Wellness Centre and Wild Birds Unlimited.