As Aspen Valley Wildlife’s mandate is to rehabilitate injured or orphaned wild animals for release back into the wild, we try to return most of the animals in our care back to their natural surroundings as soon as they are old enough and healthy enough that they are likely to survive on their own.
Animals at Aspen enjoy Halloween too, including this raccoon, playing on a pumpkin added to their enclosure for fun and enrichment.
But every fall, we have a few in our care whose release we must carefully consider.
Depending on their circumstances; their age, or the extent of their recovery from illness, injury or malnutrition, some animals are just not going to survive if we release them too close to winter’s arrival.
This year, 18 raccoons will stay at Aspen for the winter. The raccoons, born late in the season, haven’t reached a healthy weight for winter survival.
Ideally, each raccoon weighs between 12 and 15 lbs when released. Of the 115 raccoons we cared for, this last group hasn’t reached weight levels that make us comfortable enough that their chances of survival are high.
We also have 16 squirrels in our care for the winter. Squirrels require enough pre-winter preparation time to cache their supplies of nuts and seeds in a network of hiding places for winter survival. Our most recent orphans just haven’t grown enough, fast enough, to get out and stock up for snow and freezing cold weather.
We’ll return them to the wild next spring, with an entire summer to become accustomed to their surroundings and gather supplies.
Five Sudbury fawns we’ve cared for will also spend a winter at Aspen before taking a trailer ride back north in the spring. On top of the fact it’s hunting season, young fawns just don’t adapt fast enough to new surroundings to cope with winter weather. Like our squirrels, a spring release gives them three seasons to discover their surroundings, giving them a better advantage when it comes to survival.
And those don’t include the beavers, the hibernating bear cubs, any off-season arrivals, and the permanent animals in our care.
So, while life at Aspen is much quieter in the winter months, with visiting days at an end, most of our volunteers returned to their homes throughout Canada and Europe, and no more newborn mouths to feed around the clock, there are still plenty of animals in our care – enough to keep staff busy until peak season arrives again next spring.
(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.)