Published On: Sat, Dec 31st, 2016

Wildlife team helps Torontonians better understand their animal neighbours | Toronto Star

Toronto Wildlife workers capture a turkey on Kingston Rd. east of Bellamy in 2012.

Toronto Wildlife workers capture a turkey on Kingston Rd. east of Bellamy in 2012.  (Star archives)  

Toronto Wildlife Centre animal rescue teammembers Andrew Wight (right) and Stacey Freeman (left) scope out locations for a new falcon nest atop Ryerson University's Ted Rogers School of Management building in Toronto.

Toronto Wildlife Centre animal rescue teammembers Andrew Wight (right) and Stacey Freeman (left) scope out locations for a new falcon nest atop Ryerson University’s Ted Rogers School of Management building in Toronto.  (Jesse Winter / Toronto Star) | Order this photo  

Andrew Wight leans over the railing and stares 10 stories down to the street below.

He’s standing ankle-deep in snow on the roof of Ryerson University’s Ted Rogers School of Management building. He’s trying to solve a problem.

“What do you think?” he asks, turning to his animal rescue team colleague Stacey Freeman.

“I think it will work,” Freeman replies, confidently. Downtown Toronto’s skyscrapers tower around them.

The concrete canyons of the city’s financial district form a nearly perfect habitat for falcons like the American Kestrel pair at the Ryerson building. The birds prefer to nest on high cliff edges near bodies of water, and a cityscape is a pretty close stand in, with plenty of pigeons and other small birds for them to feed on.

But the kestrels that return year after year to the Ted Rogers building have a problem: their nest overhangs that dizzying 10-story drop to the street.

“When the young start to fledge out, they end up crashing down onto street level,” Wight says.

The Toronto Wildlife animal rescue team has been at the building every spring for the past couple of years, called to rescue downed fledgling falcons.

This year he and his team came up with a solution.

Toronto Wildlife Centre animal rescue teammembers Andrew Wight (right) and Stacey Freeman (left) scope out locations for a new falcon nest atop Ryerson University's Ted Rogers School of Management building in Toronto.

Toronto Wildlife Centre animal rescue teammembers Andrew Wight (right) and Stacey Freeman (left) scope out locations for a new falcon nest atop Ryerson University’s Ted Rogers School of Management building in Toronto.  (Jesse Winter/Toronto Star)  

“We put in a recommendation to the land owner to help them put up a nesting box that will keep the birds safer, and direct them to a safer spot to fledge,” he says.

The new nest box will be built on the side of a stairwell enclosure that’s only a few feet above the roof itself. Nearby railings can act like tree branches to help the newbie pilots get back to their nest if their first flight doesn’t go exactly as planned.

Scoping out a new nest box might not be as adrenaline-filled as some of the rescue team’s more memorable saves, but it’s all part of helping Toronto’s animal and human inhabitants live alongside each other a little more smoothly.

With majestic creatures like falcons, getting humans on board is relatively easy. When it comes to more pesky critters like raccoons and squirrels, the sales pitch is a bit more challenging.

“We try our best to educate people,” says Sarrah Castillo, a rescue team member.

“A lot of the conflicts that happen are based on a lack of understanding,” of animal behavior, she said.

“As much as people don’t like them, if a raccoon is in your attic, she’s there because she’s having babies and she got in through a weak spot.”

This past fall one particular raccoon captured headlines and hearts when she got stuck on a precarious window ledge outside the Star’s newsroom at 1 Yonge Street.

Scoop, as we dubbed her, scrambled up to the fourth-floor window after someone spooked her from a garbage can she was rummaging through.

She spent days clinging to the side of the building, unable to get down. Eventually the Toronto fire department sent a ladder truck to help Wight and his team pull the terrified bandit to safety.

While Scoop was dangling – emaciated and scared – from Wight’s net in a fire truck bucket, Castillo was on the ground helping to hold a giant net incase the little raccoon panicked and fell.

Andrew Wight of the Toronto Wildlife Centre releases clean ducks in 2015 after they were covered in oil from a spill that seeped into a Toronto creek.

Andrew Wight of the Toronto Wildlife Centre releases clean ducks in 2015 after they were covered in oil from a spill that seeped into a Toronto creek.  (Vince Talotta/Toronto star)  

After spending a month in rehab at the Toronto Wildlife Centre, Scoop was released back into the wild but not before some Toronto Star readers wondered why so many resources should be spent saving a species that the city’s own mayor once declared war on.

From Castillo’s perspective, Scoop had it easy. This summer the team was called to deal with a squirrel that got caught in an illegal leg hold trap. After the trap sprung, it fell into a sewer gutter, pulling its mangled victim along with it. By the time Castillo and Wight got there, the little squirrel was screaming in pain.

“It was horrible hearing him, and the fact that this was done maliciously,” she said, “it hurts to see that, to think that people think that’s okay.”

Castillo’s biggest frustration, she says, is when people blame animals for mistakes their human neighbors make like leaving out garbage or failing to properly insulate their roofs.

“You just know that there are people like that in the world,” Castillo said.

“All I can do is do my best and be conscious of the fact that animals are here and you need to respect them,” she said.

Human-wildlife conflict is pretty much never the animal’s fault, Castillo said. Like the falcons that adapted to skyscraper ledges, animals will exploit anything humans allow them to, and that’s on us, not them.

Wight said the rescue team responds to an estimated 30,000 calls per year, and ends up taking more than 5,000 animals like Scoop into its care annually.

Their charges range in size from mice and squirrels to raccoons, coyotes, and deer.

Despite the canine’s teeth and claws, Wight said trumpeter swans are often their most unruly and impressive rescues.

Toronto firefighters worked with Toronto Wildlife Centre staff to pull off a dramatic rescue of Scoop the raccoon, who spent days trapped on a fourth floor window ledge at 1 Yonge Street.

Toronto firefighters worked with Toronto Wildlife Centre staff to pull off a dramatic rescue of Scoop the raccoon, who spent days trapped on a fourth floor window ledge at 1 Yonge Street.  (Jesse Winter/Toronto Star)  

Rescue jobs can be as complicated as pulling a terrified raccoon off a building with the help of a dozen firefighters and a ladder truck, or as simple as helping a confused owl find its way out of a construction site.

The best case is when the animals come out unscathed, and can be released the same day, Wight said.

Sometimes animals are injured severely enough that, even with rehabilitation at the wildlife centre, they likely won’t survive in the wild. In rare cases, Wight said the team may choose to euthanize an animal, but it is always considered a last resort, and a heartbreaking one.

“It’s very hard. It’s the hardest part of the job. It’s not a decision that we ever want to make,” he said.

The wildlife centre doesn’t get any government funding. The charity relies on donations to keep the lights on and its animal guests fed.

The centre’s director, Nathalie Karvonen, said right now the most pressing need is money for food and medical care for the injured animals that Wight’s team brings in.

“Weeks ago we surpassed the number of animals we admitted last year and we are still admitting sick and injured wild animals daily,” she said.

Back on the Ryerson rooftop, Wight and Freeman take a few more minutes to check out the site and make some plans for a new nest. They’ll aim to get it set up before the spring, when the falcons return to nest again. If all goes well, it’ll mean one less call, one less animal that needs rescuing.

As they head for the stairwell, Wight checks his email on his phone. There’s another call: a bird down on the 401.

“It’s saddening to see it over and over again, but it’s a reality. Animals living near humans, humans living near animals, there are going to be incidents,” Wight says.

“It’s why we need to exist. That’s why we’re here,” he says.

Wildlife team helps Torontonians better understand their animal neighbours | Toronto Star.

Source: Wildlife team helps Torontonians better understand their animal neighbours | Toronto Star

About the Author