Friday, July 14, 2017

Running with moose

“I don’t have nipples on my ankles”, I blurt out as the hungry mule deer fawn butts me again. She nuzzles the protective boot covers I’m wearing and pulls on the hem of my coveralls, kneels down and nudges my ankle with her forehead again. Why does she keep looking for milk way down there?

Again, I offer her the bottle she abandoned in favour of my ankles while her foster brother sucks ecstatically on the bottle in my other hand. But she seems to have lost interest in finishing her milk. A couple more nudges against my shoe covers, and she wanders over to the fence where the six moose calves are already calling for our attention, wanting milk. The morning rush at Tim Horton’s is nothing compared to this.

I’ve been helping out my co-volunteer Brooke with the deer and moose feedings on occasion now. Moose in particular are difficult to raise in human care. They are very susceptible to diseases, easily get diarrhea and have very diverse food preferences, preferring to browse on a great variety of plants. Feeding the fawns and moose involves putting on clean, protective coveralls, gloves, and shoe covers so we don’t unwittingly carry germs that might cause diseases into the enclosures.

The male deer fawn, long eyelashes halfway lowered over his smoky blue-grey eyes, is almost done with his bottle. To encourage him to poop, I begin scratching above and next to his twitching tail. Funny how that works: just a few seconds later deer pellets fall to the ground. 

The three deer fed, Brooke and I enter the moose pen. This is easier written than done as all six calves push against us, shouldering each other out of the way. Above the tangle of spindly moose legs the velvety, long-whiskered noses stab at me as I quickly grab two bottles and push the nipples into the closest calves’ mouths. The soft brown eyes lose the hungry expression and concentrate inward. The bottles empty within no time, and the two moose are like different animals, turning away with an almost bored expression on their faces. They stand around as if wondering what to do now that their bellies are full. One of them folds her front legs and lies down.

 By now, Brooke is an old pro at making moose get up: in order to digest the milk properly, moose calves and deer fawns should not lie down right after feeding. She pushes and pulls on the calf. “Come on, get up.” Reluctantly, the calf raises her bum into the air and pushes herself up on those impossibly long legs. “Let’s walk with them.”
The calves just stand and stare as we walk away from them, calling for them to follow. I break into a run, kicking up my legs in a probably very poor imitation of a running moose. “Come on!” One takes a couple of steps forward, setting the other five moose into motion. Now they are all following me.
I leap through the tall grass and bushes in my coveralls and powder-blue booties, hooves thundering behind me. Through the underbrush we go, running for the tall spruces. I stop and turn around. All the moose calves stop immediately and stare at me. I start running again, and so do they, following me through the enclosure until we are back where we started. The calves begin nosing through the cut up fruit they get free choice as part of their food.

Kevin Costner may have been dancing with wolves, I muse as Brooke and I tie fresh willow branches to the fence. But that can’t have been as much fun as running with moose.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Trying to save a bear cub's life

As soon as I push the spoon under his nose, he turns away. It’s as if the spoon isn’t full of food, but loaded instead with an invisible power that pushes bear’s head away. We’ve been sitting like this for fifteen minutes already, the cat-sized bear cub and I: me trying to get medicated food into him, and he studiously avoiding the spoon. 

The bear’s face looks grotesque, his lower left jaw distended by what appears to be a huge black blood clot. His tongue and lips have been pushed off to the side by the horrible black thing in his mouth. My mind races through the options of giving the bear the powdered antibiotics mixed into the high calorie paste on the spoon: he won’t drink from the bowl; if I smear it on his paw so he licks it off, I can’t be sure he actually swallows all the medication; smearing it on the good side of his mouth with my finger also won’t guarantee he licks it off.

I’m at my wits’ end. This cub won’t live if doesn’t take his antibiotics - and if he doesn’t eat more. A visit to the vet two days before revealed that he has a partially shattered lower jaw bone, which hadn’t been apparent when he came in twelve days earlier and was first examined. The little one had been doing quite well at Northern Lights Wildlife Shelter, feistily playing with his brother and eating a lot until he suddenly seemed to feel sick.

When the vet showed us the necrotizing gum tissue and exposed dead bone in his mouth, I realized that I’m just beginning to understand how incredibly tough and resilient wild animals are to pain and injuries. But that won’t help this cub if he keeps wasting away because he won’t eat. I’m not getting anywhere with my attempts of giving him the prescribed medication. Angelika Langen and long-time volunteer Kim Gruijs succeed in removing the large bubble of bloody fluid in his mouth by flushing it with a saline solution, but he still needs more medical intervention.

The following morning finds us at the vet again where the skinny little cub gets hooked up to IV fluids. His jaw is healing well, but he is in poor general condition. If he continues to refuse food, he will die. We are hoping that the fluids will make him feel better and help his appetite.
Receiving treatment at Babine Animal Hospital

Back at the shelter, Kim and Angelika’s daughter Tanja Landry make the decision to withhold water from the little one so milk is the only liquid available to him and he is forced to drink it. I feel uneasy about this because he has been refusing milk as well as food. What if he won’t drink it? Tanja makes the good point that he won’t survive if all he takes in is water.

I have no luck giving him milk that evening. He turns away his head. It is Kim who finally succeeds in making him drink it: she squirts milk into his mouth with a syringe, forcing him to swallows it. I hold my breath when after the few mouthfuls his milky muzzle begins to look for the syringe, wanting more. It’s late at night, but suddenly everything seems bright with hope.

Was it the IV fluids, the syringe feeding, or the combined effort of all of us to save his life? In the morning, the little cub sticks out his pale pink tongue and, looking back and forth between the bowl and me, starts lapping up the milk. This is the sweetest sound I’ve heard all week.