A shop building in Maidstone’s industrial area now more closely resembles a hospital for wild animals.
Canada geese, Goldeneye ducks, beavers, and garter snakes are among the oiled animals being treated at the facility overseen by Focus Wildlife Canada. The company arrived July 25, after it was called by Husky Energy in the wake of an oil spill into the North Saskatchewan River.
Chris Battaglia, president of Focus, is no stranger to these situations; he’s responded to around 80 oiled animal situations. He was part of the response team sent to the wreck of the Exxon Valdez in Alaska in 1989, and helped clean up more than 20,000 penguins after the MV Treasure sank near South Africa in 2000.
Battaglia said the number of affected wildlife doesn’t necessarily correlate to the size of the spill. It’s affected by wildlife populations, species and time of year. Cleaning them, however, follows the same process.
“The animals have to be treated for hypothermia,” he said. “They have to be fed, they have to be housed. We do stabilize them, then they go through the wash, they go back out into pools, restoring their waterproofing.”
The process resembles an emergency room. Each animal is given a chart, and details such as weight, blood results, behaviour and the location of the oil are noted. The animals are caged and fed in the centre, which is kept quiet and warm.
“The big stress is us handling them,” Battaglia said. “They have to be fed, or force-fed almost, with fluids. They get a lot of electrolytes and some slurries as well. At the end of the day, a bird gets picked up eight times a day.”
The team tries to reduce visual and audible stress on the wild animals, which instinctively want to get away. Once the animals are stable, they’re washed.
“The wash gets all the billing, but it’s only a very, very small percentage of the time that they spend in the wash,” Battaglia said.
The wash involves a series of tubs with hot soapy water, followed by a rinse under a high-pressure hose. In the case of birds, the soap must be rinsed from the feathers so their natural water-resistance returns. Drying takes place in a warm trailer parked outside the building, where birds will restore their feathers to the proper place. Then they’re released with tracking bands.
“The typical success rate varies depending on species, the time of the year, how long it takes us to find them,” Battaglia said. “The quicker we do find the bird, the higher success rate…(for) the penguin spill many years ago, we had an over 90 per cent success rate. The Kalamazoo spill, we also had around 90 per cent. With Canada geese, sometimes we have a 100 per cent success rate.”
There is also something to the Dawn dishwashing liquid commercials. Battaglia was involved in those and said Dawn does have special grease-cleaning properties not included in other dish detergent; however, there’s one natural product that comes close and is less harsh on skin, which is used when possible.
Geoff Smith is battlefordsNOW’s news director, business and agriculture reporter. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or tweet him @smithco.