The city's one and only wildlife refuge centre has big plans for expansion in 2016.
That was the message from the centre's president and founder, Rod Jouppi, during a volunteer appreciation evening at the Walden facility on March 2.
“We're looking to grow our volunteer base to about 30 to 40 people for this year to help out with the changes we have planned,” said Jouppi.
Last year, the refuge centre took in more than 900 wild animals, ranging from mice to moose and everything in between. The facility has long stood as Greater Sudbury, and northeastern Ontario's, lone wildlife refuge centre, and now Jouppi is looking to expand their educational programming.
“We have two mandates here and they are rehabilitation of orphaned and sick wildlife and the second is to provide education and awareness on wildlife and the environment,” said Jouppi.
“The big focus is to get into our educational programming in a bigger way this year. We're planning to work with Science North to create exhibits in here and to build a wheelchair access ... so that we can accommodate classrooms and different groups of people. We're hoping to provide a really interesting and educational experience without stressing the animals out.”
Wild at Heart is also expanding its monitoring of the animals they rehabilitate, starting with the GPS tracking of turtles they release back into the wild. Jouppi would eventually like to employ this technology with more of the animals that come under the care of the refuge centre, but there are financial hurdles with doing so.
“We're going to put GPS locators on our turtles to see how successful they are when they're released from here, so there's an opportunity to do a lot of research when it comes to wildlife,” said Jouppi.
“We'd like to (do this for more animals), but it's expensive and it involves being able to attract research dollars in order to track animals that we release, but it's an ideal way of knowing how effective a rehab centre is and how the animals do after.”
The centre operated with 16 volunteers in 2015 and eight interns from around the world. This year, Jouppi is hoping to have closer to 40 volunteers working in rotation.
“We count on people in the community to take part because we have construction projects, fundraising, education and animal care, so there's four committees that people can have their choice of being involved with,” said Jouppi.
Anyone interested in any of the four pillars that operate the Wild at Heart Wildlife Refuge are free to contact Jouppi, who had some parting messages for anyone who might come into contract with wildlife this spring.
“During the spring a lot of animals are being born so it's important that people don't get involved with the wild animals too soon,” he said. “Sometimes we'll see a baby wild animal in our backyard and assume that it needs help and the mother is not there, but usually the mother is just around the corner, so it's really important to leave those animals alone for at least 24 hours until you know for sure that they need help, because if we get involved too quickly we can't do as good a job as the mother can.”
If you're interested in volunteering at Wild at Heart, you can visit them online at www.wahrefugecentre.org or call them at 705-692-4478.*
*In an earlier version of this story, the phone number was incorrect. Northern Life apologizes for the error.