Brooke’s animal instincts still intact
Aspen Valley News
Brooke’s animal instincts still intact
Even after spending six years in a cement enclosure once given the tools, Brooke still knows how to build a lodge.
In some of the previous columns, we’ve discussed the various efforts made by staff to prepare the orphaned wildlife for a successful release back to the wild. It may seem at first glance that these babies need to be taught what to do in order to survive. However, the reality is that staff are merely providing them with the necessary tools in order for the various species to develop their instinctive skills.
Instinct (or innate behaviour) is defined as the inherent inclination of a living organism toward a particular behaviour. In other words, any behaviour is instinctive if it is performed without being based upon prior experience. A good example is the instinctive behaviour of a beaver of shaking water from wet fur. Even the youngest beaver knows how to do this without having to be taught.
The role of instinct varies from species to species; the more complex the neural system of an animal, the lesser the role of instinct and social learning. Humans, for example, are able to alter their behaviour because of their higher brain capacity.
The staff of Aspen Valley have studied and observed the natural behaviour of the various wildlife that come to us and therefore can recognize what is the instinctive nature of each. Staff then provide them with appropriate materials to encourage the development of these skills.
For instance, otters as well as raccoons know how to catch fish in their natural environment, so staff provide live minnows for them to hone their skill at catching them.
Beavers know instinctively that they should build a den and create dams. But staff has observed that they need to practise in order to perfect the techniques involved. Consequently, the young beavers are provided with plenty of branches so that they can work at developing their skills including how to cut down trees and to prune the leaves. After eating the leaves, they use the peeled sticks to create a lodge and to dam up flowing water.
Squirrels eat predominantly seeds and nuts, but will eat insects as well. They scurry around to gather food and are motivated by the goal to prepare for winter. They gather leaves to build a cozy nest to keep themselves warm over the cold months. Staff provide them with the materials in order for them to work on these instinctive behaviours, especially for the ones that will overwinter with us before being released.
Coyotes instinctively know how to hunt for food, but again they need to practise. In order to prepare our little ones for a successful release, they are offered mice to catch. They learn to smell the prey, to stalk and then to pounce – and are not always successful at catching it to begin with. But they soon become quite good at it – an essential thing in order to survive in the wild.
Bears know to hibernate in winter. The cubs that overwinter at Aspen Valley develop voracious appetites and are provided with plenty of food starting in the fall, so that they build up their fat reserves when they do go into their dens.
Staff provides wooden boxes with plenty of straw, one for each animal, so that they can alter the den to suit themselves. Sometimes staff have found as many as seven cubs squeezed into one box!
Close company for a long winter, but also very cozy, once the straw has been packed in around the entrance.
The majority of the outcomes of instinctive activity contribute to the preservation of an individual or to the continuity of the species, and staff at Aspen Valley does its best to provide the various wildlife with the materials required to aid in the development of these skills.
(These weekly articles are contributed by staff at the Aspen Valley Wildlife Sanctuary. The sanctuary rehabilitates orphaned and injured wildlife with a mandate to educate the public towards a better understanding of local fauna.)