The 4 R’s: Rescue Recovery Rehab Release
Wildlife Habitat a Shared Responsibility
The MARS Wildlife Rescue Centre was founded in 1995 by Comox Valley resident Mary Jane “Maj” Birch to rescue, rehabilitate and release injured, ill or orphaned birds. Back then the non-profit was called the Mountainaire Avian Rescue Society, but recently changed its name to reflect that MARS now looks after animals as well as birds, and to reflect the broader mandate associated with our new wildlife facility.
For the past 22 years, MARS has been mainly run by volunteers on a pretty, forested property near idyllic, rural Merville, British Columbia. Over that time, MARS volunteer caregivers have seen it all, from diseased and emaciated eagles and owls to ducks and swans with broken legs and wings.
It’s never dull at MARS. Every day is unique and exciting. Typically, the centre is a busy hub brimming with patients and wildlife caregivers feeding birds and cleaning cages, while other volunteers rescue, rehab or release wildlife depending on the day and stage of recovery. As you can imagine, much of the day-to-day is far from glamorous, but the work can also be extremely rewarding – particularly when wildlife is returned home.
Caseloads Steadily Rising
Over the past few years, MARS has witnessed an exponential increase in the number of animals and birds that come through our doors. In 2016, volunteers and staff treated more than 800 patients and are expecting to easily surpass that total this year. By far the main reason for our growing caseload is human expansion into traditional wildlife habitats. Simply put, we’re interacting with wild nature far more often than we used to and seeing more patients as a result.
As a founding principle, MARS believes we all have a moral responsibility to help wildlife in distress — particularly wildlife victims whose injuries or illnesses are a direct product of human activities. This responsibility extends to the methods and approach to care we have adopted at MARS.
MARS is not a zoo. The current facility is very much a hospital and the animals and birds are very much patients. As far as possible, they are extended the same courtesies a human patient would receive because privacy, peace and quiet are essential to wildlife recovery. For this reason, we don’t allow the general public access to our patients.
MARS wildlife caregivers also follow strict protocols to ensure the lowest level of human-wildlife interaction possible in order to prevent imprinting or habituation. We want wild nature to stay wild.
MARS Moving to a New Home
In May 2017, MARS began transitioning to a brand new 11-acre home several kilometres from its original location. The new MARS Wildlife Rescue Centre will have expanded capacity and all the bells and whistles a top-of-the-line rescue facility needs to manage a growing caseload. There is a new wildlife hospital, soon there will also be a visitor/discovery centre, a large bird flight pen, bird aviaries and animal pens, a space for our ambassador birds, a wetlands area and a deer enclosure, and living quarters for MARS staff and volunteers. When completed the centre will be the fulfillment of a dream.
Mary Jane Birch dreamt of building a facility that could treat more birds and animals while acting as an education centre. She wanted to teach the public — particularly young people and children — the importance of preserving and protecting the wildlife and habitats of the Comox Valley and northern Vancouver Island. Sadly, Maj didn’t live long enough to see her dream come true, she passed away in 2015 after a battle with pancreatic cancer. But in her will she left a substantial bequeathment that has provided the financial foundation for the new MARS Wildlife Rescue Centre.
With the continued support of the local community, our generous donors and dedicated volunteers, we will be able to fulfill her dream and create a legacy for the Comox Valley that will ensure wildlife is protected and wild habitats are preserved.