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Fostering to Wild Families

What is Fostering?

Fostering is the act of taking a wild animal or bird who has been orphaned and placing them with an appropriate adoptive family or parents back in the wild. Life in nature can be a pretty tough and the best equipped young will have the best chance of survival.

Why Do We Receive Orphans?

Human activities such as roads, free roaming cats, windows, and well-meaning people all interfere with the day to day activities of raising a family in the wild. MRWC’s first response when receiving the orphan is to identify if the original family is still present and return them to the original site if they have been removed in error. If they are truly orphaned they will be accepted into our hospital for care.

Why Should We Foster?

Wildlife rehabilitators have developed numerous protocols to successfully raise orphaned wildlife of hundreds of species in captivity and there are times where this still may need to been done. Fostering is the preferred method of Medicine River Wildlife Centre for the following reasons:

  • It places the orphan back with a natural family who can raise it better than any human, no matter their skill level. Finding food, hunting and survival skills and interacting with their own species are nearly impossible to duplicate in a captive situation.
  • It reduces the workload on staff and volunteers as young wildlife can be tremendously time consuming.
  • Cages and other facilities needed to raise all of these young can be minimized reducing fund raising needs.
  • The costs of raising the young are reduced; food, staff, utilities, housing, etc.
  • Valuable time once spent on feeding babies can now be put towards critically injured wildlife, education, and other projects.

Considerations

  • Orphans must be healthy and free of injury
  • The young must be placed into a family of the same species
  • It is important in most cases that the adoptive family has young of similar age and size
  • Rarely do we overload one family with more than one extra addition
  • Ensure the landowner is receptive to having wildlife fostered on their property
  • Ensure the new family is in appropriate habitat with no unnecessary obstacles such as: the family is within a busy urban area or the neighbour traps and removes that particular species.

Research

MRWC began placing orphans after seeing it happen in the wild. We did not purposely try to foster until nature showed us it could work. During the first few years of fostering staff fostered several different species with only anecdotal observations. Colour marked young would be put in dens and nests or released to lactating does and observations were recorded.

It was realized that anecdotal observations would not be enough information if we wanted to bring this to the scientific community and a wider audience, we would need solid evidence. There were also some species such as beaver kits that we could not follow and observe with simple colour marking. The research project began.

MRWC has placed transmitters on orphaned deer fawns, moose calves, coyote pups, and beaver kits to follow the progress of the fostered young. Moose and deer have external transmitters placed on ear tags and coyote and beaver kit transmitters are placed just under the skin by the veterinarian. These transmitters are VHF and are tracked with the use of a receiver and antenna. They have mortality sensors within them so the staff can tell right away if the animal has died. The life of these transmitters is anywhere from three months in the implanted ones to two years in the ear tags.

It must be realized before fostering that putting orphans back in the wild does not mean they will live happily ever after. It is normal for some young to be predated.

The research to date has clearly proven that the young are all accepted by their new families. The following are the results for 2014/2015:

Fawns – It has been confirmed with other professionals and researchers that a fawn left alone will simply lie down and wait for a doe. They will die in that spot and not travel on their own. Therefore if we find that a fawn immediately leaves the area, it is fostered and we can be assured it is travelling away with the doe. In 2014/2015 we fostered and tracked a total of 16 fawns. 2 fawns were inconclusive and 1 died of natural causes shortly after fostering. All other fawns let the area immediately and were tracked until the following spring. 4 of the fawns were found alive and well the spring after they had been fostered.

Moose – 2 moose calves were tracked in 2014. 1 was tracked travelling in the fostering area keeping out of sight of the staff for 9 days. On the 10th it was found predated by a bear. Bears naturally take up to 70% of moose calves in the wild annually. 1 was both tracked and seen travelling with the cow and other calf 2.5 months after the fostering

Beaver – Just 1 beaver kit has been fostered. It was placed into a wetland with 9 other adults and an undetermined number of young and was tracked on into the fall.

Coyote – 6 post-weaned coyote pups of both sexes have been added into existing coyote dens. All pups have been tracked and alive 3 months after placing them with new families.

Anecdotal results have provided a 100% success rate with birds of prey, numerous species of songbirds, geese, ducklings, sandhill cranes, fox, red squirrel, and skunks.

International Recognition

We began presenting our ideas and protocols on fostering to the wildlife rehabilitation community in 2009. Speaking at conferences across the US has brought some amazing results.

The HSUS has adopted the method and helped create a national Fostering and Reuniting Committee. They play a major role in promoting the method, developing protocols and sponsoring the committee presentations at conferences.

Fostering wild orphans has become a major interest at MRWC and staff have a strong passion to continue developing protocols and methods. Staff gladly share ideas with other professionals and interested people and will continue to attend conferences to spread the word.

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