Archives > December 2016

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:
  • 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


Honolulu Zoo Society. 2016. Animal Enrichment. Available online at: Accessed December 19, 2016.

Toronto Zoo. 2016. Animal Enrichment. Available online at: 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.



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


The Cornell Laboratory of Birds, All About Birds, Snow Owl.

Hinterland’s Who’s Who. Snowy Owl.

Porcupine Pals

It’s unlikely that you’ve seen one of these spiky critters bumbling around, since porcupines are nocturnal and tend to avoid humans at all costs.

If you were to run into a porcupine though, you might find them in treed areas, chewing on soft bark or even munching on crops in fields.

Porcupines like to live in caves, hollowed out logs, treetops and even abandoned buildings.

These large rodents are strictly vegetarians (herbivores) and enjoy a diet of bark, berries, leaves and plants. They are tree-climbing experts, although they move slowly and awkwardly when they make up their way up the tree line. When they do get up a tree, they sometimes stay up there for days to rest.

Porcupines do most of their breeding in late summer or early fall, giving birth to a single baby, called a “porcupette” in May or June. Porcupettes are quite large when they’re born, but their quills are soft to avoid hurting their mother during their birth.

Porcupettes mature rather slowly and a porcupine’s life span is usually five to six years.  In some cases they have been known to live up to ten years.

One common misconception about porcupines is that they can “throw or shoot” their quills. The truth is, porcupines can only “quill” you if you’re touching them, and there’s usually a few warning signs that come first. A porcupine who is clattering their teeth, vocalising or “displaying” her quills to you, is letting you know not to come any closer.

Despite their tough exterior, porcupines are low-key, calm, quiet creatures who tend to keep to themselves. They are one of the many unique mammals that call Alberta home and make their way into AIWC when injured or in need of help.

The holidays are a great time to help out Alberta’s wildlife! Consider adopting an animal for a loved one through AIWC’s Adopt an Animal program. Program participants receive a colour photo of their adopted animal and an adoption certificate. Give a gift that makes a difference.

By Nina Grossman, AIWC Volunteer