It’s no secret that the historic flooding challenging Quebecers for weeks now has caused its fair share of displacement-- thousands evacuated from their homes, properties destroyed, and pets left behind or escaped in the fray.
However, the unprecedented flooding has also claimed a new set of victims: wild creatures swept away in the rapids, trapped in areas far from home.
Along the shore of the Saint Lawrence River in Verdun, where water had swelled onto the dirt bike path, Kayla Breaker was walking with her boyfriend when she was approached by a stranger asking for a phone.
He said there was a deer in the water.
“We followed after him, and then I saw her—A large female deer, her hip broken, her upper body trying to reach for land,” Breaker explained.
The whites of the doe’s eyes were pink, she was shivering, and her head was lolling back. Breaker’s immediate reaction was to panic.
She called 911 and tried to explain that they’d found a deer with hypothermia, but says she was transferred twice before the line was cut off. There was no response at 311.
Within ten minutes, the doe was dead. It was then that the people by the shore noticed a fawn in the water nearby, and they were hopeful that the baby could be saved.
When animal paramedics finally arrived some 40 minutes later, the fawn was pulled from the water, dried off and swaddled in blankets before being taken away by officials.
The fawn, estimated to be about one year old, has a high chance of being re-integrated into the wild following its recovery at an animal refuge, said Animex worker Ariane Duplessis.
Duplessis and her team believe that the deer were whisked downstream in the flood from Île aux Hérons, a small island in the Lachine rapids that acts as a sanctuary for white tail deer.
“It was a really surreal experience-- very unsettling, very dream-like,” Breaker said. “I never thought I would ever see a dead deer floating in the St. Lawrence.”
Both Breaker and Animex officials concluded that the doe had fractured a hip and subsequently drowned— it’s a sad situation to come face with as an animal lover, especially when bystanders start to feel culpable for not acting faster.
That begs the question: what is one expected to do when stumbling upon a “wild” animal in distress?
More recently, fishermen in Pointe-Calumet spotted hundreds of carp, fins visible above the surface of the water that accumulated in a flooded field.
In the neighboring community of Deux-Montagnes, about 50 carp were stranded in Parc Centrale, an area that recently resembled a small lake as flood waters rose, even covering the roof of one unlucky parked car.
While news of the distressed fish circulated on social media, local people flocked to the flood areas and began trapping the fish in garbage pails before delivering them back to the river. However, those good Samaritans in Pointe-Calumet were ticketed for moving live fish from one body of water to another—an illegal activity, regardless of the circumstances, according to Quebec’s Ministry of Forests, Wildlife, and Parks.
These fines were eventually nullified, as the Ministry acknowledged the extenuating circumstances and the “misunderstanding” that ensued.
Animex and other animal-recovery agencies do acknowledge the challenges of establishing a “how-to” guide when it comes to animals that are misplaced due to extreme weather.
Duplessis explained that Animex uses “multidisciplinary methods” to recover animals in these situations, and that the most timeless piece of advice they could give was to always, always be aware of your own safety before attempting to recover one of these creatures. The reality is “sad,” Duplessis explained, but human life (especially in a flood zone) takes precedence.
While the Ministry of Forests, Wildlife and Parks do have delegated “game keepers” to protect and conserve certain species of wildlife, these gamekeepers keep an eye out for poaching or other hunting violations.
According to the Nature Canada website, the best option is to contact a wildlife rehabilitation centre that is equipped to provide “specialized and immediate care.” The website goes on to explain that any handling of an animal must be done while wearing protective gloves and other clothing, taking care to wash your hands after.
However, Animex said that it’s best to avoid contact with a distressed animal— even domestic creatures like cats – because of the risk of injury.
In moments of doubt, the best bet is to contact a local wildlife refuge to advise, or involve them in the recovery process. The following list from the Humane Society is not exhaustive, but will give some direction to those concerned about wildlife welfare in a time of crisis.
· Animex (Multidisciplinary responders): 514-241-2588
· Action pour les Animaux Urbains-- Centre de Sauvetage et de Rehabilitation de la Faune: 664 Station Snowdon, Montreal (514-366-9965)
· Animafaune— Le Moulin des decouvertes: 34 route 132 O, Saint-Fabien (418-869-2222)
· Ecole de Medecine Veterinaire: PO Box 5000, stn Bureau-Chef (514-345-8521 ext. 8427)
· Fondation Mitou: 1550 rue des Peupliers, Manseau (1-819-876-7785)
· Frontier Animal Society: PO Box 2505, Stanstead (819-876-7785)
· Humane Wildlife Control Inc: 50 Chemin Bates, Outremont (877-222-9453)