If there’s one thing that Andrew Wight wants people to know about the Toronto Wildlife Centre, it’s that it exists at all.
When city dwellers spot an orphaned gosling or a sick fox, they often don’t know who to call, he says. Hours pass as they scour the phone book, calling Animal Services and veterinary clinics before landing on the TWC, where Wight is a Wildlife Rescue team leader.
By then, it may be too late.
Take the case of the downtown ducklings. There’s a courtyard in the financial district where four highrises meet and lush greenery surrounds a pond. There are no predators, and lunching office workers keep the bread crumbs coming.
That makes it a perfect spot for a mama mallard, who returns year after year to have her babies. But, unable to fly and receiving no nutrients from the treated water, the ducklings can starve to death.
Wight, one of two TWC employees who traverse the GTA rescuing orphaned, trapped or injured animals, has successfully rescued flocks from the courtyard four years running. But this season, the building’s maintenance staff waited too long. By the time Wight arrived on a recent Monday, the ducklings were dead in a garbage bag; their mother circled the pond alone.
“It’s a disappointing call on all levels,” Wight says as he drives away, after explaining to onlookers why the ducklings died and the importance of notifying the centre sooner.
“It’s nobody’s fault,” he continues. “Now with the education they have, hopefully it won’t happen again.”
Living alongside wildlife in the city is a delicate balance, and an influx of babies can cause it to tip. That seemed to be the case last week, when Dong Nguyen allegedly attacked a family of raccoons destroying his garden.
Some Toronto Star readers came to the man’s defence, saying they’ve been pushed to edge by the city’s raccoons. “Good for him!” one reader commented on a column in support of Nguyen. “He did what most people thought about doing or were too afraid to do.”
Some might wonder why Wight and his colleagues work so hard to save the animals they view as destructive, like the raccoons, or threatening, like coyotes, or just plain populous, like squirrels. Why not let nature take its course, they might ask.
It’s an argument Wight won’t wade into.
“There’s an injured being and it deserves to be helped. And these animals are injured because of human impact,” he says. “You’re not going to change the world. But at least you’ve made an attempt to help.”
The Toronto Wildlife Centre, unlike city-run Animal Services, focuses solely on helping the city’s wildlife and is funded completely by donations. Once the animals Wight rescues are healthy and rehabilitated, he reintroduces them to the wild. This is the busiest time of year at the centre, where staff and volunteers are fielding around 200 calls a day.
For Wight, disappointments like the downtown ducklings are countered by everyday successes. When he sets off from the centre in Downsview Park one recent morning, he takes four orphaned goslings and heads for a known Canada goose hangout: Seneca College’s Markham campus, where a large scenic pond supports all kinds of wildlife.
Canada geese are one of the only birds that will accept unrelated babies into their flocks. Wight has a particular family in mind. He spots them as they’re headed toward a patch of trees leading down to the water. Wight carries the orphans over, sets them down under the branches and steps back.
After a few moments of confusion, the goslings head down to the water. They exchange curious glances with the other geese and moments of hesitation pass before they continue on together. The orphans mix with the other goslings; it’s impossible to tell them apart. They have a family now.
Urban threats to wildlife
The ducks, snakes, turtles, raccoons and coyotes that call Toronto home have to watch out for all manner of threats. Cars and power lines are obviously deadly. Garbage also poses a danger, including kite strings and the lids of iced coffee drinks, which get stuck around raccoon’s wrists.
Then there are diseases. Mange causes the fox and coyote population to fluctuate. Distemper has been a major problem in recent years, affecting raccoons and nearly wiping out skunks. Two years ago, Wight says, he rescued 50 baby skunks. Last year, that number fell to just two.
Nathalie Karvonen, the centre’s executive director, also says outdoor cats cause grievous injury to songbirds. She wants people to rethink letting their cats roam free.
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If you are in the Toronto, Ontario area and need the help of the Toronto Wildlife Centre or you would like to donate to them:
Toronto Wildlife Center
60 Carl Hall Rd., Unit 4
Toronto, ON M3K 2C1
For concerns about sick, injured, or orphaned wildlife, or any other wildlife-related question or concern, please call:
TWC Wildlife Hotline: (416) 631- 0662
Our Hours of Operation: