Wednesday, 18 June 2008

A Walk on the Wild Side

One of my greatest regrets about my time here in Canada - and believe me, I have very few regrets about these 2 years - has been that I have never seen a moose. I had just assumed that I would, particularly as we have had several trips to Algonquin Provincial Park, famous for its moose population.
Last weekend I decided that this situation must be rectified, so I announced to Rob that we were off to the Muskoka Wildlife Centre, about an hour's drive north of home. He seemed less than impressed, but wasn't quick enough to come up with an alternative plan, so we set off.

What a day we had! The Centre is wonderful - not a zoo, but an animal sanctuary, home to many animals native to Ontario that have been rescued from some truly tragic circumstances. Flower the skunk for example, had been orphaned at a young age, along with her 8 brothers and sisters. When their parents did not return to them one day, they all left their home to find food. Sadly the first food they came upon were poisonous berries, and they all died apart from Flower who was rescued and brought to the Centre. As a result of eating the poisonous berries she had developed epilepsy which caused her to spray uncontrollably. In order to give her - and presumably the staff of the Centre - a better quality of life, she was de-scented and has lived happily (and free from epileptic fits) at the centre for the past 10 years.

We arrived at the Centre just in time for the 11am 'Meet the Creatures' session and were delighted to be able to see several animals at close quarters. Meeting Flower was much more pleasant than our previous skunk encounters... we rarely ever see them, but believe me, it's very clear when one has wandered through the garden during the night..!

Many of the animals live happily with other creatures with whom you would not expect them to be friends. Flower for example shares a home with Clover the Groundhog, a highly comical and very greedy Woodchuck who was 'surplus to requirements' at an American zoo so brought to Muskoka to become part of their education programme. She seemed to be very at home there!

Indeed, several of the animals here had been born in zoos across the continent. We were very fortunate to visit while the Centre was providing a temporary home for Aurora and Borealis, two Arctic Wolf cubs.

They were on their way to a zoo in America, and had been hand-reared since birth making them very comfortable with human company. They also seemed incredibly comfortable with their room-mate, a cheeky young raccoon with whom there was much comic rough-and-tumble!

At the back of the Centre there was a winding path through the woods, along which were many cages housing a huge variety of rescued animals. We had seen a Black Bear whilst in the Rockies last Summer, but it was lovely to get a better view of one here in Muskoka - Kootenay, a Black Bear who had been kindly but misguidedly hand-reared by a family in British Columbia. Unable to be released into the wild, Kootenay now lives a relaxed life with Kokanee the Cougar.

He seemed perfectly content with his life - although Kokanee looked less enthralled by being the object of so much human attention!

The path continued past wolves, bald eagles, beavers, wolverines, foxes, bobcats, - all manner of beasts. I was relatively disinterested in seeing Badgers - after all we have them in England - until I actually saw them! It appears that North American badgers are completely different to the badgers which I know and love - and these ones were extremely personable. Just look at that face.

We were so captivated by the animals that we stayed to see the 1pm Meet the Creatures too, where I rashly volunteered to have Kingston the Black Rat Snake (a rescued pet) draped around my neck.

I felt privileged to witness such a fantastic organisation in action, doing incredible work both in the conservation of Canadian wildlife and in the education of the public.

And yes, I finally got to see my moose! Ugly beasts, but very splendid in their own unique way.