Wildlife Centre calls for public inquiry of MNR; wants wildlife rehab file transferred to Environment ministry


OTTAWA, May 6, 2003 – The Ottawa-Carleton Wildlife Centre (OCWC) is calling for a public inquiry into the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources’ (MNR) mismanagement of wildlife rehabilitation in the province, including its unjustified move last week to release quarantined raccoons and skunks back into the wild without first allowing an independent assessment of the health of these animals, and a brief period of rehabilitation.


OCWC officials say they were “shocked” by the move, particularly in light of Premier Ernie Eves’ comments on CFRA radio last week saying he would immediately look into the matter because of the community’s concern.


“It appears the Premier either didn’t follow through with his commitment to Ottawa residents, or he was ineffective in stopping the bureaucrats within the MNR from releasing the animals,” says OCWC President Donna DuBreuil. “It is time that officials within the Ministry be held accountable for the web of lies that have been spun since day one of this boondoggle. A public inquiry would provide much needed answers, and go a long way in restoring the public trust that has been lost.”


The Ministry reportedly released 34 raccoons and three skunks within the last week onto Crown land somewhere in Southeastern Ontario. These animals had been seized from the care of the OCWC last summer. The OCWC has several concerns with this announcement:


Unjustified seizure: These animals were taken without justification from a region where there has never been a case of raccoon rabies. They had been vaccinated against the disease, and had been in quarantine even at the time of their seizure well beyond any scientifically-proven incubation period for rabies. The Ministry kept them in isolation for a further seven months.


Inhumane captivity: The raccoons were kept separately and in cages one-third the size required under international standards for wildlife rehabilitation. An Ottawa judge recently commented that it would be in the best interest of these animals to be returned for a brief four-week period of rehabilitation at the OCWC. Experts worry that these animals will be unable to survive in the wild.


“There is no question that the raccoons’ musculature and skeletal development has been affected by being kept in such small caging without the opportunity to exercise or climb”, says Richard Morlan, a longtime OCWC volunteer. “A raccoon’s survival is dependent on its ability to climb – it is inhumane and irresponsible to release these animals without a period in proper-sized cages to allow them to rebuild muscle strength and agility”.


No Disney-like ending: Assuming the animals were released from the Ministry’s research facility, where were they released to? The OCWC is concerned they have been released into the old high risk zone for rabies, where the Ministry is still trapping and euthanizing animals as part of its “depopulation” program. “It would be unthinkable that the Ministry would take healthy animals from an area where there has never been a case of raccoon rabies, and dump them into an area where there is rabies, and where these animals will likely be trapped and killed,” says OCWC Board Member Debbie Lawes.


Fox needs rehab, not zoo: The OCWC is also outraged that the Ministry will be putting the fox it seized into a zoo. The animal was held unnecessarily in solitary confinement for nine months, and the MNR now claims it is too tame to be released. No responsible wildlife agency would place a tame wild animal in a zoo. It sends an entirely wrong message that wildlife can be sufficiently tamed to make good pets. The OCWC wants the fox returned to the experienced rehabilitator that she was seized from and who can provide an appropriate “soft release” on her property, something the individual is confident would be successful.


Move wildlife rehab to Environment ministry

The OCWC was forced to shutdown its telephone hotline and rehabilitation service last year after the MNR introduced new rules that make it impossible to offer a humane and responsible wildlife rehab service anywhere in Ontario. The OCWC is calling for a full public inquiry into the issue, including the feasibility of transferring the responsibility of wildlife rehabilitation to the provincial Ministry of the Environment.


“This is no longer just an issue of animal welfare,” adds DuBreuil. “There has been a breech of public trust, abuse of power and misuse of public funds.  It is also clear that the MNR is out of step with public opinion and community values and is not the appropriate ministry to oversee wildlife rehabilitation services in Ontario. It should be transferred to the Ministry of the Environment.”


“The MNR handling of the situation in eastern Ontario demonstrates that it does not have the ability to work with partners in the community and it certainly does not have the support of the public,” says Lawes.