To rescue or not to rescue? That is a question we constantly come up against as a conservation organization. As one of 36 Conservation Authorities across the province, we are responsible for managing more than 2,700 hectares of greenspace and natural habitats across our jurisdiction in Durham Region. In our day-to-day operations, we have a ‘no tolerance’ approach to feeding, touching, teasing, frightening, baiting and intentional disturbing of wildlife nesting, breeding, or other activities. Because we see more than 150,000 visitors per year at our Conservation Areas—who come because they can get a good view of our wildlife—we receive many calls regarding injured animals or wildlife that appear to be in distress.
In our 62 years as an organization, we still grapple with the dilemma to intervene or not to intervene. While our approach is to keep human interference to a minimum, especially if it’s something that happened naturally to an animal, as a rule we don’t intervene. If, however, a human activity causes an animal to become injured or orphaned, we may intervene. However, as with all decisions about life, there can be exceptions and circumstances beyond our control. Our philosophy is intervention requires justification. This can be emotional, whether it’s a baby robin that has fallen from its nest, or a fawn that has been separated from its mother.
Some wildlife in our conservation areas are extremely visible, so injuries are easily observed in a species like the mute swan—an introduced waterfowl species that competes with our native trumpeter swan. (The mute swan [Cygnus olor] is one of the world's largest waterfowl and one of three swan species that occur in North America. This bird is not native to the continent and is considered an invasive species outside of Europe and Asia.) A missing leg or foot for a mute swan can be viewed by humans as a definite disadvantage, but as long as the injury is not infected, the swan can swim, fly and feed, and generally, look after itself, so we will not interfere. The trauma of capturing and rehabilitating an animal is not always best, and then reintroduction is not always successful, which could result in an animal having to be euthanized.
Also, if a species is considered common, over-populated or a nuisance—as in the case of the mute swan or Canada goose—they are less likely to be candidates for intervention. That is NOT the case with turtles, specifically in our conservation areas and around our watershed. Of the eight turtle species in Ontario, all of them are considered Species at Risk. We often find injured female turtles after they have been hit by a car during nesting season. Due to the loss of suitable nesting habitat around their home wetland, they use the sandy gravels on roadsides to lay their eggs. Those ladies are a priority for us and many other conservation-minded individuals, and we work closely with the Ontario Turtle Conservation Centre in Peterborough. Every year they save about 1,000 turtles, reconstructing shells and limbs, then reintroducing them back to exactly where they came from. You see, a female turtle is not reproductive sometimes until she reaches the age of 20, so if we lose her, that has a significant impact on turtle populations in her home wetland. With the loss of wetlands and nesting habitat, road injuries and mortalities it is no wonder their populations are at risk and why we make the effort to intervene.
So if you see an animal in distress at our conservation areas, please contact us at 905-579-0411 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. We do need to know. But it’s important to remember that we will consider the merits of intervention and make a decision based on our policies, experience and an assessment of the animal’s injuries. Please know that it’s not always an easy decision and it can be very emotional for us to not intervene.