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Coronavirus: Expert says number of injured animals brought to wildlife centres could increase

Alberta wildlife behavior could change during COVID-19 outbreak
WATCH ABOVE: Animals could be a more common sight in cities around Alberta as humans are commuting less to work. But people could also be hiking or walking in the outdoors more. Eloise Therien finds out what’s happening with wildlife in the province.

As the COVID-19 pandemic limits the amount of activities Albertans can engage in – and has resulted in huge job losses across the country – the streets of many cities and towns have been far less densely populated by humans and vehicles.

“We’ve encroached on their habitats so we have pushed them out of their environments,” said Holly Lillie, executive director with the Alberta Institute for Wildlife Conservation (AIWC).

READ MORE: Humans self-isolating due to coronavirus a ‘bonanza’ for Manitoba wildlife

With fewer people out and about, she adds, seeing more animals is a normal occurrence.

“It is natural that they would be coming in to investigate that more,” she said.

From Jan. 1 to April 11, Lillie says AIWC saw 81 animals come in for care. During the same time in 2019, only 39 animals were brought to the centre.

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Although there is no real way of knowing why this happens, she says it could be related to more people finding injured animals, as people who are self-isolating and physically distancing are going on more remote walks and hikes away from busy areas.

“Because more people are at home — and potentially enjoying the outdoors more — we could actually see more animals coming into care,” said Lillie.

“We know there’s lot of animals that are never found when they’re injured, so we could see that change as well.”

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The Alberta Institute for Wildlife Conservation, located northwest of Calgary, is a non-profit organization that provides care for injured and orphaned wildlife. Ninety-five per cent of the animals brought into its care is due to human conflict.

“That could be: hit by a car, domestic pet attacks, hitting a window, barbed-wire, etc.,” Lillie explained. “It’s very rarely that we see animals come into care for natural reasons.”

READ MORE: Banff declares a state of emergency amid coronavirus pandemic

Seventy to 80 per cent of animals in the care of AIWC are found within the City of Calgary, but it takes animals from across the province or refer people to other wildlife care centres.

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Although more people may be venturing out in areas that are allowed, popular hiking and tourist destinations have been shut down.

READ MORE: Coronavirus: Parks Canada to close national parks, historic sites to vehicle traffic

Parks Canada closed access to services on March 25, stating on its website:

“This means that all parking lots, vehicle services, washrooms, day use facilities, showers, visitor centres, and camping facilities, including oTENTiks, yurts and backcountry camping are closed until further notice.

“Many trails and day use areas across the Parks Canada network are also closed for public health or public safety reasons, to protect ecological or cultural resources, to protect the health and safety of employees, or due to limited availability of search and rescue response. Highways and roadways which pass through Parks Canada places will remain open.”

Wildlife photography contest underway in Calgary
Wildlife photography contest underway in Calgary

Alberta Parks followed suit soon after, putting similar measures into place on March 27.

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READ MORE: Alberta provincial parks close parking during COVID-19 pandemic

Spring is typically a time certain wildlife start to venture out of hibernation. With Waterton – one of Alberta’s national parks – closed down until further notice, animal behaviour could start to change.

Layne Cook, the owner of Rocky Mountain General store in Waterton, Alta., says he and his family haven’t been to the town much this year, but they do see a trend with one animal that could be altered now that people won’t be populating the area as much.

“As people start to show up, the male big horned rams decide to leave town,” Cook said.

“In April and the first part of May they’re right in the town site; usually by the time people start to show up, they pack up and head out.”

Parks Canada told Global News it may be too early to tell what impact this pandemic will have on wildlife populations within its parks.