To The Rescue

WILDRescue’s mission is saving orphaned, injured animals

Dale Gienow’s mood is cheerful as he recounts this year’s springtime rescue of two goslings in distress from a parking lot near South Edmonton Common.

“We found them by themselves, orphaned,” says Gienow, director of business development for WILDNorth, who manages WILDRescue, a tactical wildlife rescue service that saves hundreds of injured and abandoned wild animals in Edmonton and northern Alberta. The only formalized injured wildlife rescue program in Western Canada, it takes in about 3,000 animals every year.

“Most animals (95 per cent) are (admitted) because of human activity,” says Gienow. For example, they might fly into a building’s window or be hit by a vehicle. For Gienow and his team, saving an animal is just the first step. The goal is always to eventually release them. In the case of the two goslings, the story has an immediate, and happy, ending.

“We were able to scoop them out and foster hem with another goose family,” he recalls happily.

WILDRescue was formed two years ago by what used to be the Wildlife Rehabilitation Society of Edmonton. It has since been renamed as Northern Alberta Wildlife Rescue & Rehabilitation, or simply WILDNorth. In 2017, Edmonton Community Foundation (ECF) provided a $37,000 grant to WILDNorth to help staff its WILDRescue program and in 2018, ECF provided a $68,000 grant to extend the program, including $20,000 for an SUV. The organization chose a 2016 Jeep Patriot and had it emblazoned with the WILDRescue logo.

On a typical summer day, Gienow’s team will head out in the Jeep and rescue several animals. The most common animals rescued include squirrels, hares and songbirds, but the service — which responded to more than 800 calls last year — covers 250 species.

Many of the rescues will end up at WILDNorth’s large Parkland County rehabilitation facility, which can hold up to 400 animals at any given time. Most are released back into the wild within a year.

Before they got their Jeep, rescue workers at WILDNorth would use their personal vehicles. Having a vehicle that fits all of their gear — which includes kayaks and various nets and cages — has been a gamechanger for the team.

“It’s crucial for the organization,” Gienow says of the Jeep. “It’s always available for calls. It’s a reliable vehicle and carries all our gear.”

And, with its eye-catching black-and orange logo, the Jeep helps raise public awareness about the organization. “It’s a travelling billboard,” Gienow says.

Gienow, who started working in this field in 1986, is regarded as Canada’s foremost expert on wildlife rescue. He has developed and implemented similar programs in Ontario as well as acting as a resource for the Ontario government for animal rescue contracts.

The lanky, affable 49-year-old, who sports an earring made from a medieval coin he won in a jousting competition in Wisconsin, has also worked on feature-film sets as an animal trainer and has served as a scientific adviser for wildlife documentary films.

He now works with the leadership team that oversees WILDNorth’s 11 full-time staff members, 240 volunteers and 40 interns.

That dedicated team never loses sight of its mission to raise awareness of how human activity is affecting wildlife. “Be cognizant that we’re sharing this urban environment with our wild neighbours,” Gienow says. “Always be careful to keep them in mind.”