As a journalist, occasionally circumstances align and a personal experience illustrates the importance of a piece you report. That happened for me this week.
I woke up Aug. 19, scrolled through my Facebook feed and arrived at a startling post from my dad, which showed an owl stuck to the grill of his Ford – a huge bundle of feathers indistinguishable as its body, and yellow eyes staring at the camera. The video showed the bird was very much alive.
I called my dad, and got the full story – which, sadly, does not have a happy ending.
“You just feel really sick, hitting any wildlife,” he said.
Driving home to Didsbury around 9 p.m. on a Sunday night, he inadvertently hit the owl, which had been sitting in the middle of the road. What resulted was an hours-long ordeal, he told me. First, he tried, unsuccessfully, to free the bird on the roadside before driving slowly into town to determine his next move.
My dad’s primary complaint was his inability to locate a resource to help dislodge and rescue the bird. Report A Poacher provided him with several phone numbers for local conservation agencies, but by the time of the incident – at night, on the weekend – they were closed, as was Alberta Fish and Wildlife. A local vet said it was unequipped to handle wildlife. The incident was too low-priority for the RCMP.
“It was all voicemails and answering systems, and I’m getting nowhere with that,” my dad said.
Thankfully, he was able to speak with someone from the Cochrane Ecological Institute, who – although unable to respond to the incident – offered advice.
Eventually, my dad was located a local 24-hour mechanic and, together, they freed the bird. He then transported the injured owl to the Calgary North Animal Hospital and finally crawled into bed around 4 a.m.
The hospital later told him an injury to the owl’s leg meant it wouldn’t survive in the wild, and it was humanely euthanized.
Shortly after, I was assigned to cover the Alberta Institute for Wildlife Conservation’s (AIWC) urgent need for funding. During my interview, I relayed my dad’s story.
As conservation agencies grapple with a lack of resources, it’s challenging for them to respond to after-hours emergencies – despite the fact that “there are incidents happening all the time.” The best advice AIWC could give was to find a way of preventing further harm to the injured animal until agencies are open and can respond.
If I’m honest, that answer left me unsatisfied, through no fault of AIWC. What it showed me is that there is a real need to support conservation efforts, so these organizations have the ability to respond to situations like the one my dad found himself in.