ROSSEAU - A new leader sits at the head of the table at the local wildlife rehabilitation centre.
Julie Woodyer was recently elected as the chair of the Aspen Valley Wildlife Sanctuary. A long-time worker in wildlife management, Woodyer brings decades of experience to the position that makes her responsible for the care and rehabilitation of a myriad of animals.
Woodyer said the organization’s near-term goal is to focus on the continued construction of what’s called purpose-built shelters. These are animals’ habitats specifically designed to accommodate the biological and behavioural needs of animal inhabitants.
She said the benefit of constructing such shelters was recently demonstrated in the story of a few beavers. The beavers came to the reserve from a facility in London, Ontario where they had spent their life living in what was essentially a concrete bowl.
“The moment we put them into a purpose-built enclosure they started constructing a lodge, and they just did a fabulous job of it,” said Woodyer. “It was quite a learning experience for all of us to see that regardless of where they were born and how they lived their lives their basic instinct to build was still there. It also shows how frustrated they probably were.”
Woodyer has seen numerous animal habitats over the course of her career. For roughly the last 20 years Woodyer has been assessing captive wildlife facilities as part of her work with Zoocheck Canada.
“I’ve had a lot of learning at that time about what are the most important components so that the animals’ lives can be fulfilled, even in a captive environment. It’s not that easy to do so you have to focus on what are their biological and behavioural needs, and that’s why Aspen is particularly well-positioned,” Woodyer said.
The connection with Zoocheck has proved a serious asset to Aspen Valley recently as the sanctuary looked for a more suitable home for long-time resident Subira, a lion.
The African lion, obviously not native to the Rosseau area, needed a home in a location more similar to its natural habitat and with other lions. Through a contact of Woodyer’s, they were able to find a home for Subira in a Colorado sanctuary, where she is now part of a pride.
Woodyer is taking the chair position as former chair, Peter Jennings, steps down. She is looking forward to taking the reins at Aspen Valley.
“We’re the most unique and probably the most important rehabilitation facility in the entire province because we have the most amount of owned land, most of which is all pristine habitat,” said Woodyer. “We can take a chunk of habitat, put a fence around it and allow the animals to live in a space that properly meets their needs.”
The new chair will be presiding over the rehabilitation centre at a time when the legal environment it operates in will be changing. Muskoka Lakes council is currently in the process of creating a bylaw that will place restrictions on the keeping of exotic animals. The bylaw comes after an incident during the summer where a previously captive cougar attacked a pet dog.
The proposed bylaw will likely not affect Aspen Valley, and Woodyer said she welcomes the additional restrictions.
“Our focus is let’s build safe enclosures that best meet the animals’ needs. We want them to raise the bar higher and higher and higher. We want everyone to meet the standard that Aspen can meet.”