Archives > January 2017

Species At Risk

The human population interferes with natural habitat and wildlife every single day. If there was not protection for wildlife species, we would most definitely see increasing rates of extinction -more so than we have already seen around the world.

Alberta has policies in place to help our wildlife from becoming closer to extinction and has rankings for species that are at risk.

What is a Species at Risk?

“Species at Risk are the most vulnerable components of Alberta’s biodiversity and require special attention to maintain and recover their populations and habitats” (AESRD 2014).

There are different rankings for Species at Risk, and a detailed status assessment is created to help determine the proper designation. The Species at Risk rankings are (AESRD 2014):

  • Endangered – when a species may soon become extirpated (disappear from their range in Alberta), or extinct.
  • Threatened – when a species is likely to become endangered if certain factors are not reversed.
  • Species of Special Concern – a species with characteristics that make them particularly sensitive to human activities or natural events.
  • Data Deficient – when there is insufficient scientific information to support status designation of a species.

What do these rankings mean?

  • A species with the designation of Endangered or Threatened will receive protection and a recovery plan. Recovery plans have a goal of attempting to ensure long-term survival of the species in their natural habitats in the wild (AESRD 2014).
  • Prevention programs also exist for Species of Special Concern with the goal of preventing these species from becoming Threatened or Endangered (AESRD 2014).

How do you know the ranking of a species?

One of the most famous examples of a recovery program that helped a population rebound back from the brink of extinction is the whooping crane. The whooping crane breeds in Northern Alberta, and migrates to Texas in the winter. Without human intervention, the whooping crane could have easily disappeared. There were only 21 individuals left in 1941, and with the help of a breeding program, the whooping crane population is now at 600 individuals (Cornell University 2015). While this species is still listed as Endangered today, they have a fighting chance of survival due to human intervention.

How can YOU help?

  • AIWC is dedicated to helping wildlife that needs assistance.
  • By supporting AIWC, you are increasing survival rates of individual animals in our care, as well as helping to try to ensure the survival of their species.
  • To see the many different ways you can help support AIWC, please follow this link:

By Tayler Hamilton, AIWC Volunteer


Alberta Environment and Parks (AEP). 2017. Endangered, Threatened, Special Concern and Data Deficient Species in Alberta. Available at:

Alberta Environment and Sustainable Resource Development (AESRD). 2014. A Guide to Endangered and Threatened Species, and Species of Special Concern in Alberta. Version 1. Edmonton, AB. 84 pp. Available at:

Cornell University. 2014. Whooping Crane. Available at:




Gulliver, Education Ambassador, 2013-2016

Gulliver, or Gully as he was usually called, was admitted as a kit (baby skunk) in summer 2013.

He was found all alone outside a yoga studio in Calgary. It was evident the moment he arrived
that he was a very special animal.

It soon became clear that this little skunk kit would not be suited to a life in the wild – he relied
on humans too much and was very (too) friendly with people.

After careful review, the decision was made for Gully to become an AIWC education
ambassador. Education ambassadors play an important role at AIWC, helping educate the
public about the hazards wildlife face. Gulliver’s Travels became the title for the many trips
Gully took each year as an AIWC representative.

Gully has been a cherished member of the family at AIWC, and it is with great sadness that we
announce his passing on December 17th, 2016. We will forever miss him and his rambunctious

Gully was incredibly smart; he knew when you had food in your bag, and would pretend to
give you kisses so he could smell what you may have eaten that day (such a charmer!). He loved
having fresh towels and blankets to make his own bed/nest at night, and he especially enjoyed
a little game he’d invented, where he’d hop on a towel and have you pull him across the floor.

Skunks are some of the most misunderstood wildlife in Alberta, yet they fill such an important role in our ecosystem. Gully impacted the lives of all he met and he was able to help distill the fear and misconceptions so common with his species.

Thank you, Gully, for all you did. We love and miss you so much.

By H. Duvall, Executive Director AIWC


Skunks have bold white stripes down their backs and most are about the size of a house cat. They have fairly small heads, short legs and bushy tails. They use their sharp claws for digging.

Although Skunks usually give some warning signs such as stomping, hissing or charging before they spray, they discharge a foul-smelling fluid from glands located at the base of their tail when they feel threatened. Their spray can reach as far as 3 metres and can be aimed pretty accurately!

These nocturnal mammals are easiest to find in the summer months. They inhabit farmlands, grasslands and forests, making use of abandoned woodchuck or fox dens and occasionally creating their own from scratch. Urban-dwelling skunks often make homes under porches or in sheds, finding small areas for permanent homes.

While skunks aren’t true hibernators, they are fairly inactive during cold winter months. While they are usually independent, they share dens to stay warm, cuddling up just like people do when it’s cold!

Skunks munch on all sorts of things! They are omnivores and enjoy eating insects and small animals like mice and ground squirrels. Some of they’re favourite meals are grasshoppers, crickets and insect larvae. Sounds pretty yucky to us, but makes for a delicious skunk lunch!

Baby skunks, or kits, are usually born in May in litters of 4 to 6 and sometimes more. By two months old, their mother starts to wean them and takes them outside the den to hunt and scavenge for food on their own. Most of them will return to their mother’s den for their first winter.

AIWC cares for A LOT of skunks! By early October 2016, 83 striped skunks had been admitted, and most of them were kits. That was an increase of 176% since 2014!

“Scared Skunk” is a children’s book created for AIWC by Michelle and Denver Suttie and was launched in October 2016.The kindergarten to grade 3 level book helps kids grow their love and appreciation of Alberta’s wildlife! It can be purchased online or at:

* Wildbird General Store in Edmonton

* Purearth Organics in Red Deer

* Deja Brew in Cochrane

* Yamnuska Wolfdog Sanctuary in Cochrane

*The Wild Bird Store in Calgary

100% of proceeds are donated to AIWC!

Every year, most of us set goals or make silent pacts to ourselves that this will be the year we make some changes! Personal improvements aside, volunteering with or donating to AWIC is one way to make a meaningful, lasting change that helps wildlife right here in your province. Purchase Scared Skunk for a little one, or get involved with AWIC to start off the year with a giving heart.

By Nina Grossman, AIWC Volunteer




Five Benefits of Volunteering with AIWC

Are you looking for a way to give back? Do you love wildlife? Would a few more skills help round out your resume? Consider volunteering with the Alberta Institute for Wildlife Conservation! Volunteers are our most valuable asset, but contributing your time also offers many benefits to you.

  1. Learning and skill development

Volunteering with AIWC creates ongoing learning opportunities for even seasoned naturalists and often requires out-of-the-box thinking. Some animals need to be hand fed while in care which requires patience and dexterity. Other animals are escape artists and new visual or physical barricades will need to be installed to keep them safe while they recover. Additionally, staff often require assistance while treating patients providing volunteers with the chance to learn about different bone structures, physical features, and adaptations of a variety of wildlife. Each day offers different challenges at AIWC for volunteers to learn from and grow.

  1. Looks good on a resume

Whether you’re just starting your career, changing directions, or returning to work after some time away, volunteering with AIWC can give your resume a boost! Taking on responsibilities within the centre or supporting the organization through writing, administrative assistance, fundraising initiatives or event promotion can all enhance your resume and provide skills a potential employer would value.

  1. Meet likeminded people

Despite living in an increasingly social world where everything is shared online, it can still be difficult to meet people who share similar interests in real life. AIWC offers volunteers a place to collaborate on projects, to meet a mentor and to build friendships. Many volunteers have been with the centre for years and have developed lasting relationships with other volunteers and the education ambassadors.

  1. Support the next generation of naturalists

Education is one of AIWC’s priorities. Volunteers help to teach children and youth about wildlife and conservation efforts by visiting classrooms and libraries, offering support at booths and helping to host on-site talks and tours of the centre offered to the public throughout the year.

5. Help wildlife

Most importantly, volunteering with AIWC gives you the opportunity to directly aid orphaned, injured, and oiled wildlife by giving of your time. This offers an invaluable resource to the centre and its patients.

If you would like to get involved with AIWC, please consider volunteering your time. Alternatively, monetary and in-kind donations are always welcome and help support AIWC’s ongoing efforts for wildlife rehabilitation.

By Stephanie Ruddock, AIWC Voluteer

Natural Instinct

Statistics show over 60% of North American households has at least one companion animal in their home.

In homes all over the world companion animals are thought of and treated as one of the family. Households invest a ton of time and money on the healthiest foods and snacks, stimulating toys, fluffy beds, the safest enclosures, and the best daycare available.

The majority of homes have dogs and cats as a companion animal however, modern households have many other kinds of animals living in their homes. Hamsters, birds, fish, lizards, bunnies, snakes, and a variety of other animals are loved by families as their fur/feather/scale/etc babies.

Depending on the kind of animal that families have in their household, there are many things that need to be considered. Animals of all kinds require adequate housing, nutrition, nurturing, enrichment and training to keep them healthy and safe within the home. For example, cats require specific climbing equipment and stimulating activities, birds require enclosures with a proper perching spot, and dogs require specific training and guidance. They all require comfort, respect and love to help them thrive.

When the care mentioned above  is absent, companion animals may show stress by clawing the furniture, defecating  in places they shouldn’t or by becoming quiet and reclusive or fearful or aggressive. When this happens chaos ensues and the home becomes neither safe nor enjoyable for anyone.

As we take care of companion animals and provide them with the physical needs and training necessary to live happily ever after in our homes, they still maintain their natural instincts. We train our dogs to come, sit, stay and much more. Many learn what is being asked of them, however each breed will have a tendency toward their specific natural abilities. For example, a retriever will sit and stay but the second they are allowed to move they will be looking for something to retrieve.

Song birds will sing, cats will stalk, lizards will sit on a warm rock, and fish will continue to swim around their tanks. These special abilities and natural instincts are built into each animal from the beginning to support the survival of their species. Animals can be taught certain behaviours, however, natural instinct remains in each and every animal.

Although there are many different animals that people are able to care for as part of their family, there is a world full of animals that belong only in the wild. Each with their own set of instincts needed for their health and survival.

For example, If a fawn is kidnapped and brought home to live with someone who thinks the fawn is orphaned, the fawn will not be getting the proper nutrition required to grow up strong and healthy, and will miss out on the necessary training she would have received from her mother when living in the wild. The fawn will become habituated and  grow up not understanding the dangers of living in the wild, making her unable to take care of herself once the person who took her realised that the fawn had become too large to care for and keep safely.

Deer can grow to anywhere between 54 and 136 kilograms and their natural instinct is to either run or fight when they feel threatened in any way. When their natural instinct kicks in they can cause injury and possibly death to anyone near.

Don’t try to help or rehabilitate wild animals on your own. If you find an animal in need of help please contact Alberta Institute for Wildlife Conservation and we will be happy to provide assistance.

Let’s work together to continue to care for Alberta’s wildlife.

By Tracey Paluck, AIWC Volunteer