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Orphaned moose among animals calling Cochrane Ecological Institute home this winter

Collisions between wildlife and vehicles almost doubles this time of year, leaving wildlife rehabilitation centres scrambling. Sarah Offin take us to a facility near Cochrane, where one of last year’s victim’s is recovering.

He’s almost 500 pounds now but he was just a calf when he came to this wildlife rehabilitation facility a year ago.

Gilles is named after the man who rescued him after he wandered onto this property last November. He and his mother had been hit by a vehicle on a highway near Madden. Gilles had a broken leg; his mother didn’t survive.

“When the spring comes and he’s fat and sassy, and he will be – for all intensive purposes – sound, then we’ll load him up in a horse trailer and take him somewhere where he will be comparatively safe,” said Clio Smeeten, president of the Cochrane Ecological Institute. The facility is situated on 160 acres of pristine land, about 15 kilometres northeast of Cochrane.

READ MORE: Moose tranquilized after running loose in Calgary neighbourhood

There, Smeeten, her husband, and numerous volunteers look after Gilles and various other wildlife.

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“We have had, over the years, bobcat, elk, lynx, and bears,” said Smeeten.

At present, they have eleven bison – many that came from the Waterton Lakes National Park during dry seasons.

Smeeten suggests dry weather this past year is to blame for an influx in animal patients, including two orphaned deer.

All kinds of birds are also brought in this time of year. Many are also hit on roadways they mistake for water. Others eat berries, which ferment in the fall and serve like cheap beer at college bar.

“The birds get a little merry and then make migratory mistakes or misjudgments,” said Smeeten.

READ MORE: ‘The skies are black with geese’: Manitoba a birder’s paradise in fall migration

As for Gilles, his needs are many. He was confined for the four months after he was rescued. Now, he roams the acreage with bison, deer and an elk that isn’t hurt or orphaned but seems to enjoy the company at on the acreage.

Facility managers are trying to keep Gilles away from fences. They’ve had five moose at their facility shot through their fences by poachers since they opened, including two last year.

Beau, a calf when he came to the facility, was shot through the fence when he was two years old.
Beau, a calf when he came to the facility, was shot through the fence when he was two years old. Cochrane Ecological Institute

“I’m not against hunters, but they should not hunt in developed area with acreages, and houses, and cattle, and dogs, and horses,” said Smeeten. “I really truly believe that the MD of Rocky View is so built up now, that all hunting should be forbidden within the MD.”

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Hunting is governed provincially, but there are a number of no-shooting zones in the MD, including Bragg creek, Bearspaw  and Springbank.

READ MORE: Video of wild moose chase by ATV riders prompts investigation

Gilles had needed extensive veterinary care to correct his broken leg and he eats at least 25 pounds of food each day.

Day-to-day operations at the facility, including Gilles’ hefty meals, are covered by proceeds from Smeeten’s on-site boarding kennel for dogs and cats, Happy Tails Retreat.

The institute is also hosting a Christmas tree sale Dec. 12 and 13, with donations helping to cover costs of animals like Gilles, and many more that the facility will rehabilitate in years to come.