It is uncanny to see a mighty forest felled by flame. But for those of us that call British Columbia home, that’s what we watched last weekend on our televisions—and for some, their rear view mirrors.
Hundreds of our friends and family members fled their homes as the wildfires danced dangerously close to their properties. The brave firefighters and other first responders of our province have been performing admirably. The government has successfully updated residents on the movements of the fires and provided information on evacuations.
We are very thankful that our communities have remained as safe as possible. But there are a great number of homes that aren’t being talked about.
Thousands of wild animals are (and will be) running at full speed to escape the inferno that has swallowed their homes. Unfortunately, there are no provincial programs in place to help them. There are no tax dollars going to find new homes for these animals—from squirrels to bears—as the world burns around them.
There are, however, first responders that are ready, willing, and able to help out.
Wildlife rehabilitation centres across the province are gearing up with supplies and volunteers to handle what will surely be a massive rise in calls. Though provincially regulated, rehabilitators do not receive provincial funding for their work.
It is certain that many animals will be treated for burns and inhalation; but it’s just as likely that many will be treated for injuries sustained while running straight into conflict situations with humans. From the sheer panic that will drive them onto roadways to the desperate search for food or water that will lead them into backyards, our wild neighbours will be at great risk.
But this is not news for wildlife rehabilitators, who will rely on us, the animal-loving public, to help them out as their workload increases.
If you want to be of assistance to a rehabilitator, here are some basics for you to know:
• Find your local rehabber by checking out the Wildlife Rehabilitators’ Network of B.C., and keep their emergency number in your phone.
• Donations are always welcome and necessary, but contact your local rehabber to find out what’s most necessary. Every rehabilitator will have their own wish list—from towels and soap to cash and gas cards.
• Always call ahead. No one likes surprises, so if you’re coming by with a donation or need to drop off an animal or supplies, call ahead and make sure someone will be available to see you.
Of course, we animal-lovers always want to act when we see an animal in distress. But sometimes our gut reaction isn’t the right move to make. As this crisis continues to unfold, please remember these basic tips if you come across wildlife in need:
• Do not attempt to pick up animals that appear to be injured or ill; small birds can be picked up with a towel and placed in a small, dark box until they are able to receive treatment.
• Note the location, time, and any visible wounds of the animal and contact your local rehabber.
• Do not feed animals—they may require specialized medicine or foodstuffs.
• Consider leaving out water—it is scarce throughout the province right now, and would be appreciated by all the animals (and won’t run the risk of habituating them).
• Not all young animals seen alone are orphaned; often, parents will leave them behind while foraging or hunting.
Ideally, we’d like to see the province providing funding and training to protect the animals who are being cast out of their homes by these wildfires. But this is not the time for political discourse. It is the time for compassion, for partnership, and for empathy as our wild neighbours struggle alongside us to find a home among the fires.