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Keystone Species 

Similar to a keystone which provides the stability to an archway, a keystone species helps provide stability to the surrounding ecosystem. Most animals play a vital role in the well-being of their local environments and the other species that inhabit them, but some deliver more critical services that are essential to maintaining balance. Some animals build new nests or burrows year after year while other animals borrow these discarded homes and would be without shelter if this keystone species was lost.

Pollinators like bumblebees, butterflies, and hummingbirds help sustain the next generation of plants by cross-fertilizing which produces fruits, seeds and vegetables for other animals to eat. Predators like wasps, wolves and cougars help prevent herbivores like beetles, rabbits and deer from over-eating those plants so that they can be pollinated again in future seasons.

Keystone species may also sustain the soil and water quality. Wolves may prey on deer which prevents the deer from eating too many saplings in a given area. This allows shoots to develop into large trees, whose root systems prevent erosion and support river banks. The rivers can then maintain adequate depths, turbidity, nutrient levels and temperatures to support fish and other aquatic plants and animals.

Alberta is home to a number of keystone species. These include beavers whose dams create ecosystems for many other animals like moose and ducks, Richardson’s ground squirrels whose underground tunneling aerates the soil to support native grasses while also providing shelter to other animals and grey wolves who help to maintain a healthy population of ungulates. Without these important species, ecosystems may become imbalanced which in turn could lead to an increase in the number of displaced wildlife that end up in conflict with humans and who ultimately find their way into AIWC’s care.

For more information on Alberta’s wildlife, book an education program with our knowledgeable staff and volunteers. To support AIWC’s ongoing care of keystone species and other wildlife in Alberta, consider adopting an animal, donating to items from our wish list, purchasing your copy of Scared Skunk or volunteering at the centre.

By Stephanie Ruddock, AIWC Volunteer

Jumping, Scurrying and Scampering

Running across electrical wires, up trees and across roads, you’re probably pretty familiar with Sciuridae. Wait a second, what is that? Let me tell you!

Sciuridae is the animal family that includes tree squirrels, ground squirrels, flying squirrels, marmots, prairie dogs, chipmunks and more.

Around Alberta, you probably see one of these bushy-tailed species (the red squirrel) on a regular basis.

These furry friends are most recognisable by their tails, which make up almost half their length! Squirrels use their tails for balance as they jump from tree to tree or rooftop to rooftop. They are agile, aren’t they? It seems like squirrels are everywhere in Alberta!

Their natural habitat is in Alberta’s boreal, coniferous or mixed forests. But squirrels seem comfortable living just about anywhere.

A squirrel’s diet consists mainly of seeds and nuts, and they have a special place in their hearts for pinecones and spruce tree droppings!

Did you know that squirrels might also eat things like bird’s eggs, flowers, fruits, mushrooms and more? They are savvy little rodents who get by on what they can.

Unlike other types of squirrels, red squirrels don’t bother with hibernating through the winter. They aren’t scared of a little cold weather! Red squirrels stay active throughout the winter by collecting nuts and climbing trees just like they do the rest of the year!

Red squirrels start breeding in March or April, giving birth to four or five pups a couple of months later. Babies are usually born in the cavities of trees or in nests built into branches.

Tip: Trying to figure out if squirrels are around?  Look for piles of cones or discarded shells from previous nut meals.

Another common Sciuridae is the Red-tailed Chipmunk. These small rodents are only about 21 to 25 cm long and just like squirrels, their tails make up roughly half of their total body length.

Chipmunks are reddish in colour and have bright orange or rust colours under their tails. They have signature stripes in black or brown and light tawny or creamy white.

Alberta chipmunks tend to dwell in conifer forests in the subalpine regions of Waterton Lakes National Park and the West Castle Valley.

Chipmunks enjoy munching on seeds from saskatoon, wild rose and snowbrush bushes. They eat leaves, flowers and fruits from these plants.

Unlike their squirrel cousins, chipmunks tend to spend winter alone in their burrows. But don’t feel bad for the little critters; come spring, female chipmunks use their burrows as nurseries for litters of two to four young.

Keep an eye out for these little rodents. Alberta is full of diverse, beautiful wildlife, and you don’t even need to look further than the electrical poles outside your house to find them!

By Nina Grossman, AIWC Volunteer

“Each species is a masterpiece, a creation assembled with extreme care and genius.” Edward O. Wilson

Sources:

http://aep.alberta.ca/fish-wildlife/wild-species/mammals/rabbits-rodents/red-squirrel.aspx

http://aep.alberta.ca/fish-wildlife/wild-species/mammals/rabbits-rodents/red-tailed-chipmunk.aspx

http://animaldiversity.org/accounts/Sciuridae/

 

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: https://www.aiwc.ca/support-us/

By Tayler Hamilton, AIWC Volunteer

References:

Alberta Environment and Parks (AEP). 2017. Endangered, Threatened, Special Concern and Data Deficient Species in Alberta. Available at: http://aep.alberta.ca/fish-wildlife/species-at-risk/documents/SpeciesAssessedConservation-2014a.pdf

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: http://aep.alberta.ca/fish-wildlife/species-at-risk/species-at-risk-publications-web-resources/documents/SpeciesAtRiskGuide-Jan-2015.pdf

Cornell University. 2014. Whooping Crane. Available at: https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Whooping_Crane/lifehistory

 

 

 

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
personality.

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

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

SOURCES:

http://www.calgaryherald.com/life/Five+questions+answers+about+skunks+Calgary/10115791/story.html

http://aep.alberta.ca/fish-wildlife/human-wildlife-conflict/skunks.aspx

http://www.hww.ca/en/wildlife/mammals/striped-skunk.html?referrer=https://www.google.ca/

 

 

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

Animal Enrichment

What is animal enrichment?

  • Enrichment can refer to the behavioural or environmental enhancement of an animal’s surroundings while in captive care. Enrichment is an attempt to improve the physiological and psychological well-being of animals in care.

How does AIWC provide enrichment?

When animals are brought into AIWC, they are often coming in from high-stress situations and showing signs of that stress. Since wildlife does not tend to favour interactions with people, there is minimal contact with patients once they are in AIWC’s care, other than for feeding, medical intervention or rehabilitation. This helps to reduce the amount of stress on the patients, as well as to keep them wild by avoiding any kind of imprinting or habitualization from occuring.

AIWC tries to minimize the amount of stress on the patients in care, and one way of doing this is by enriching their environment. Some examples of enrichment include:

  1. Scattering or hiding food throughout an enclosure for an animal to forage can provide stimulation and enrichment.
  2. Providing a lonely patient with some comfort by using a mirror. Mirrors are often placed in enclosures with song birds, or baby ducks that come in alone or are very few in number.
  3. Giving baby patients like robins and ducklings a stuffed animal that looks similar to them or their parents as a way to give them familiarity.
  4. Providing patients with enrichment items such as trees to perch or climb. (Enrichment items like trees also gives patients places to hide when staff or volunteers enter their enclosures to provide food or to clean, thereby minimising patient stress).
  5. Providing not only a nutritional diet but one that includes a mixture of several different types of food that are not always the same from meal to meal, making it interesting and stimulating for the patient too.

It is not always possible for all patients to receive environmental enrichment immediately due to many factors. For example, if a patient is badly injured, it may not be beneficial to have additional items in their enclosures for risk of further injury. However, once they have physically recovered they are moved to larger enclosures, and these enclosures tend to have items such as trees, perches, tubs of water to bathe in, or areas of dirt to roll in.

Enrichment is something that people provide for their own companion animals (think of the last treat you gave your dog or cat, or the last toy they played with), all with the end-goal of making them happy. At AIWC, we try to keep our patients happy through enrichment!

How can you help?

  • You might be wondering if there is any way you can help AIWC provide enrichment to our patients, and there is! AIWC has a wish list of items that gets updated often. You can find it here: https://www.aiwc.ca/support-us/wish-list/
  • As a non-profit organization, any donation helps. If you do not have the means to provide a monetary donation, there may be items on our list that you have at home but don’t need to keep anymore. We are always happy to accept these items!
  • Christmas is a great time of year for AIWC because after the decorations come down, you can donate your real Christmas tree to us! Real trees that are donated become much-loved environmental stimuli for AIWC patients.

By Tayler Hamilton, AIWC Volunteer

Sources:

Honolulu Zoo Society. 2016. Animal Enrichment. Available online at: http://www.honoluluzoo.org/support-the-zoo/animal-enrichment.html/ Accessed December 19, 2016.

Toronto Zoo. 2016. Animal Enrichment. Available online at: http://www.torontozoo.com/ExploreTheZoo/enrichment/. Accessed December 19, 2016.

 

Season’s Greetings

As 2016 comes to a close, we look back on the past year and reflect on all of the challenges and successes to help us plan ahead for 2017.

Highlights of the Year:

  • We have said “hello” to new staff:
    • I am extremely happy to welcome onboard: Michelle, our Development and Communications Coordinator, Miranda, our Senior Wildlife Rehabilitator, and Katrina, our Education and Community Engagement Coordinator.
  • We were fortunate to receive $100,000 from the Government of Alberta through their Community Facility Enhancement Program. This funding was assigned to our mortgage as debt reduction support. Over the coming years we aim to transform the house on AIWC’s property into an education centre.
  • AIWC’s first children’s book, Scared Skunk written by authors Michelle and Denver Suttie, was launched! Scared Skunk is a perfect fit for children in grades K to 4, however, anyone at any age can learn from its true story and interesting skunk facts.
  • Two volunteer orientation sessions were held with 40 new volunteers recruited. In 2015, volunteers donated over 10,000 hours to our organization, fulfilling a variety of roles such as: wildlife rehabilitation assistant, rescue driver, hotline responder, fundraising, and construction/site maintenance.
  • 3,850 individuals were reached through our education program. Through outreach programming, we’re working to creating strong co-existence between Albertans and wildlife.
  • A video of the baby beaver we have in care went viral in July on social media. It has since reached over 15 million people worldwide! The beaver kit continues to do well in care and hasn’t let fame get to him/her 😉
  • In April, the board of directors and staff met to work on a strategic plan for the organization for the next 4 years. During this session, AIWC’s vision and mission were re-written. These are the guiding forces for everything we accomplish at AIWC, and they are as follows:

Vision: Every Wildlife Matters.

Mission: AIWC is committed to the rescue, rehabilitation, and release of injured and orphaned wildlife. We provide expert advice and education that fosters an appreciation of wildlife.

  • Over 500 animals were released back into the wild where they belong!

This year has brought a large increase in the numbers of animals admitted to our centre. We attribute some of this to more awareness about AIWC, but also that human/animal encounters, and conflicts, are rising.

In 2015, we admitted 1,675 animals. 2016 has not yet come to a close and already we have admitted nearly 1,900 animals. 95%of the animals are injured or orphaned due to human activities. The most common causes of injury are window strikes, vehicle collision, hitting power lines, barbed wire, fishing line entanglement or ingestion, domestic cat and dog attacks, and exposure to toxins.

As the demand for our services increase, so does the pressure to ensure funding to keep AIWC operational now and in the future. Thank you for your wonderful support, and for generously contributing crucial funds to directly help wildlife.

It all comes down to this:

“We don’t own the earth. We are the earth’s caretakers. We take care of it and all the things on it. And when we’re done with it, it should be left better than we found it.” 

― Katherine Hannigan, author.

 

Thank you for your continued support of AIWC.

Sincerely,

 

Holly Duvall
Executive Director.

Snowy Owls

 

With the snowy weather, it seems appropriate to talk about the aptly named snowy owl whose colouring provides excellent camouflage for our northern climate.

Snowy owls, Quebec’s provincial bird, are found across the northern hemisphere and throughout Alberta. Their range extends from the Arctic Circle, where they breed north of the 60th parallel in the summer, to as far south as Texas in the winter. Unlike many other owl species that are generally active at night, snowy owls are acclimatised to hunting throughout the day. This is because their summer range in the circumpolar region features periods of 24-hour daylight for several weeks to months around June 21, depending on the latitude.

Snowy owls typically need between seven and twelve mice-sized meals per day to remain healthy and may catch up to 1,500 additional meals each year to feed their chicks. Lemmings are a main staple in the snowy owl diet, but they have been known to eat foxes, ducks, hares, mice, and voles.

Snowy owls have few natural predators but are well-equipped with their large talons and swift flight to ward off marauding foxes that might attempt to prey on their chicks.

They build shallow nests scraped into knolls or high ridges in the tundra in spring.

If you’d like to learn more about Alberta’s wildlife, book a wildlife education program for your school group. If you’d like to support AIWC’s current patients, consider donating something from our Wish List, or purchase a set of AIWC Christmas cards to send to your loved ones to let them know about AIWC’s rehabilitation hospital as well as local wildlife!

By Stephanie Ruddock, AIWC Volunteer

Sources:

The Cornell Laboratory of Birds, All About Birds, Snow Owl. https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Snowy_Owl/lifehistory

Hinterland’s Who’s Who. Snowy Owl. http://www.hww.ca/en/wildlife/birds/snowy-owl.html?referrer=https://www.google.ca/

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