OTTAWA, March 19, 2003 – The Ontario Court of Justice has agreed to consider an application that would force the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR) to return dozens of Ottawa animals seized from the Ottawa-Carleton Wildlife Centre (OCWC) in September 2002. The application, filed by OCWC Board Member Debbie Lawes, represents a final attempt by wildlife rehabilitators to save these animals before it’s too late.
“This is the last hope for these animals. They have been kept in captive care well beyond any known incubation period for disease,” says Lawes. “If they are not immediately released into the care of experienced rehabilitators to prepare them for release back into the wild, they will have no chance of survival. The timing is so critical right now that we’re concerned that the April 17 date set by the court will already be too late.”
OCWC lawyer Lawrence Greenspon said the application to the Court has forced the MNR “to formally acknowledge that the animals are alive and healthy and that they will be released this spring. Now we need the time to equip these animals with the skills they require to survive on release”.
There has been rising public concern over whether the animals are still alive and if they are being used for research testing. Contradictory reports by MNR spokespersons over the last six months about the animals’ location, their care and eventual fate, along with the MNR refusal to allow inspections, has done little to reassure the public or stem the controversy.
Rehabilitators on both sides of the border are concerned that the MNR’s improper treatment of these animals has compromised their ability to survive in the wild. The admission by MNR Minister Jerry Ouellette that the animals have been separated and are being caged individually has appalled wildlife rehabilitation experts.
“Social confinement in raccoons leads to neurotic, stereotypic behavior and behavioral abnormalities” says Laura Simon, president of the Connecticut Wildlife Rehabilitators Association and the Urban Wildlife Director of The Fund for Animals in the United States.
Tony Grant, Manager of the highly respected Aspen Valley Wildlife Sanctuary in Ontario says the MNR needs to “ensure that these animals are ethically treated and best prepared for release this coming spring. Concerned citizens and rehabilitators throughout Ontario are following the plight of these animals closely”.
The application to the Court is based on the need for the animals to be returned to the OCWC where they can be rehabilitated, resocialized and assessed over a 6-8 week period to ensure they are fit for release and have some chance of survival.
“We need to rectify the damage that MNR has done by separating these highly social animals. Keeping the animals isolated and alone has been very inhumane and in contravention of basic international wildlife rehabilitation standards – standards, ironically, that the MNR itself imposes on wildlife rehabilitators in Ontario” states Lawes.
Local MPPs, John Baird, Gary Guzzo, Brian Coburn and Norm Sterling are being asked for their support. It will be important to their constituents in Ottawa-Carleton who brought these animals to the Centre for proper care and release to know that their trust was not misplaced.
“These healthy young animals were taken without any justification. To have them returned for proper rehabilitation and release is the only morally decent and publicly accountable thing to do”, says Greenspon.
For more information, contact:
Debbie Lawes, Board Member, Ottawa-Carleton Wildlife Centre
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