For the first time ever the MARS Wildlife Rescue Centre is raising baby otters.
The sisters, who are considered escape risks because they so eagerly wait at the door for their food, will be raised at the animal hospital for a year before they are released near where they were rescued.
“We are quite excited about that because we’ve never done it before,” said Pat Scott, a MARS volunteer. “We’ve had otters in but you can’t raise an otter by itself, they need to be in pairs.”
Previously, when a single otter pup was brought to the centre it was sent to another wildlife hospital to be cared for. But this time around they are staying and Scott said it will be a good learning experience for all of the volunteers.
The otter pups are among the first animals to play in the sinks at MARS’ new animal hospital.
The organization moved to their new location on Williams Beach Road in mid May.
Because of the long, wet and snowy winter they were over budget and out of time, so many of the pens currently on the site are makeshift and temporary, said Robert McLennan, MARS volunteer and education coordinator.
It was thanks to thousands of volunteer hours and local businesses doing work in-kind that the hospital was completed in time for the move, McLennan added.
The new building is a huge step up from the old one.
“We used to deal with 700 patients in a room half the size of (a) trailer,” McLennan said. “And now you look at what we have in this facility over here and you can see that the difference is dramatic, it’s huge.”
There are three animal treatment rooms which lead to smaller holding rooms for the animals and covered pens for the birds. Food prep is done just across the hallway from the patients and the washer and dryer are side by side instead of in different buildings as they were before.
Which is good, because they have lots of laundry to do.
“We have to have towels in our cages, mats, so that the animals don’t hurt themselves,” McLennan said.
So far there have been more than 430 animals go through the wildlife hospital this year including eagles, baby barred owls, ducklings, fawns and many other young or injured animals.
The next phases of the construction on site include more permanent pens for the fawns, enclosures for the ambassador birds, a flight pen and other infrastructure that will aid in the caring of the animals.
The secondary purpose of the site will be the education and outreach program. There are plans for a visitors centre and a garden with habitat set up to encourage different species of birds to live on the property.
McLennan wants to see kids come out to MARS for field trips instead of having ambassador birds go to the kids.
It’s about demonstrating wild habitat so young people can learn what that means, said Ray Windsor MARS communications coordinator.
Though they have big plans, at the moment MARS is struggling to get by financially.
“This is baby season and we have come through a long, cold, wet winter where we haven’t been out raising money,” Windsor said.
Couple that with the added construction expenses such as snow removal and installing drainage infrastructure and MARS is walking a fine line.
Both McLennan and Windsor are also concerned about volunteer burn out.
As well as funds they are in need of volunteers to do everything from caring for animals to helping with site maintenance and construction.
Earlier this Spring three oiled eagles were treated at the hospital. Three volunteers were needed to wash each eagle, and the eagles needed to be washed four times a day. That was on top of the multiple feedings and other care that each of the baby animals in the hospital need every day.
Pat Scott, one of the volunteers said that some of the baby birds are fed with paint brushes. And other animals need special medication, such as eye drops.
Though they need extra help, the community continually surprises McLennan and Windsor with their support.
Local veterinarians charge only for supplies and donate their time, McLennan said. A retired helicopter pilot returned a recovered bird to where it was rescued. Earlier this spring a baby bird hopped into one of the tunnels that BCHydro is excavating at the John Hart Dam. McLennan said everyone shut down their machines until the fledgling was captured and taken to MARS.
Though the number of patient intakes will slow down as baby season comes to an end McLennan figures they are well on their way to hitting the 800 mark this year, if not more. And the patients come to them from across the North Island.
To report orphaned ill or injured wildlife to MARS call 250-337-2021. To contact MARS if there is an after hours wildlife emergency call 250-897-2257.