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Alta. wildlife rehabilitation facility caring for several animals over the winter

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Rehabilitation specialists at an Alberta wildlife rehabilitation facility are looking after eight animals with a series of ailments they need to recover from before they can be released back into the wild.

Katrina Terrill is the acting executive director of the Alberta Institute for Wildlife Conservation (AIWC) and says while it's a fraction of the number of animals seen in the spring and summer, they still need a lot of attention.

This year AIWC has treated four black bear cubs. Three have been released, but the fourth is staying until summer.

"This one came in at the very beginning of November," she said.

"He was actually found on Halloween night in the town of Westlock just wandering around, luckily, he was able to be captured by local environment and parks officers."

The cub was malnourished, weighing only 18 kilograms, and Terrill says that's one-third of what a bear cub that age should actually weigh.

"When we got him in, we actually had to do a refeeding protocol," she said.

"Which means we couldn't give him a whole bunch of food right away because otherwise he would have gone into shock and could have actually died from that."

So rehab specialists limited his food at first then slowly increased the amount of protein and eventually introduced carbohydrates when he began steadily gaining weight.

"And now he is eating absolutely everything," said Terrill. "He has gained about 15 kilograms since so that's been a huge increase, he's actually comfortable enough now that he's able to sleep for a few days at a time.

“He was not going to be able to hibernate with body condition that he was in but now he's actually starting to get back into that more regular rhythm for a bear at winter, which is just so fantastic to see."

Christine Wichert has volunteered at AIWC for seven years and spends a lot of time cleaning enclosures and washing towels. She also enjoys putting meals together for the long-stay animals that double as enrichment activities.

"It's a foraging bin," she said. "So we're putting all kinds of natural things in there and some treats so that (the bear cub) can dig around and do little bear things."

Wichert says her time at the facility never gets boring because she doesn't know what kind of animals may come in needing help.

"I've learned so much, it's like being in a biology class every time I come," she said. "And even after seven years, I'm excited the night before that I get to do my shift."

Terrill says right now the facility is raising funds to not only help care for the animals over winter, but also to get ready for the busy spring season that will see at least 1,000 animals needing treatment in a four-month period.

"We are doing a fundraising campaign called Give the Gift of Saving Wildlife," she said. "We're aiming to raise $85,000, currently we are 75 per cent of the way there, which is amazing."

AIWC has already cared for over 1,600 animals in 2023, most of which were brought in as the result of human conflict.

Rehabilitation can cost up to $500 for an individual patient. Staff will soon be purchasing thousands of dollars in formula for the baby wildlife that come to the facility in the spring and many more supplies.

"We need to make sure we have medication stocks all prepped and ready to go," said Terrill.

"We need to have our lead testing kits available which are very expensive items as well so we're just getting ready not only for finishing off this year but also preparing for 2024 with this fundraiser."

Learn more about AIWC at: www.aiwc.ca.

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