MARS Schools, Education & Awareness Program
Starring the MARS Ambassador Birds
A key objective of the MARS Wildlife Rescue Centre is to educate the public about the protection, preservation and well-being of wildlife and wild habitats on northern Vancouver Island in British Columbia.
The Education and Awareness Program means that visitors at Eagle Fest in panoramic Campbell River or the Shellfish Festival in coastal Comox can witness these beautiful creatures up close and personal. No doubt many of you will have run into Supervisor of wildlife care, Reg Westcott or volunteers like Pat Scott or Betty and John Robertson and seen Sawyer, Scarlett, Shakespeare, Otus or Brinley perched on a glove or outstretched arm. Each of these raptors suffered devastating injuries that prevent them from being returned to the wild, but have found new purpose helping to educate the public about wild nature.
Usually owls and hawks like these live high in trees or in mountainous areas or hunt at night and so the public rarely comes in contact with them. Seeing Brinley’s big yellow eyes, Scarlett’s powerful talons or Sawyer’s shiny feathers from a foot away is awe-inspiring and in many cases transformational.
MARS Operations Manager, Robert McLennan, has witnessed the effect that MARS ambassador birds have on people at many schools and community events: “Making a difference through educating the public and children is exciting. Seeing that, “ah ha” look in peoples eyes and learning how they can make a difference to wildlife is a special moment.”
The MARS Wildlife Rescue Centre: Limitless Education Possibilities
MARS founder Mary Jane “Maj” Birch preached the gospel of protection and preservation of wildlife and habitat until she died in 2015. Her dream was to build a larger wildlife hospital to accommodate more patients and to create a north island learning centre that emphasized awareness and responsibility for our natural environment. Maj wanted a place where families, particularly families with children, can get a hands-on learning experience. That dream is now becoming a reality.
The wildlife hospital is currently under construction and soon we’ll break ground on the visitor/discovery centre. It’s one thing to interact with birds and animals on a website in your living room, but it is entirely different to see them up close in real life. At the new MARS we intend to make this possible by inviting the public to our new 11-acre facility near Merville, BC. You’ll be able to tour our scenic property and apple orchards, see our ambassadors in their new home, watch ducks, swans and turtles in our wetlands area and observe eagles and owls in our large bird flyway from a designated viewing spot.
We’re still working out the details of the visitor/discovery centre, but this is where visitors will begin their immersive journey into the MARS story. There will be exhibits, various forms of audio/visual and digital media and we hope to offer educators an interactive teaching space where school children can be taught about the wonders of wildlife and habitat on the north island.
Taking It To The Schools
MARS has recently received government funding to hire an Education Coordinator who will be reaching out to school boards, school administrations and teachers to see how we can best meet the needs of the school curricula. To further our commitment to education, MARS is currently developing a new revised school outreach program that will take the MARS message to local classrooms in the Comox Valley. Online educational resources will likely be an important component of the new MARS outreach education strategy as more and more student learning takes place in virtual worlds. We anticipate blending school visits with a digital component to create a fun, interactive, educational experience.
We’ll have more information in this space on our school outreach plan as it becomes available, however rest assured Sawyer, Horus and the rest of our ambassadorial gang will be coming to a classroom near you soon.
If you are an educator, school, a community outreach group or an organization hosting a community event and would like to have MARS ambassadors on site, we’d love to hear from you!
Wildlife Care Supervisor
“I was in a severe accident at sea and ended up with PTSD. While recovering I began volunteering to help reduce my stress. Working with Shakespeare the owl was the only time I wasn’t replaying the boat accident in my head.”
“My husband, John and I have volunteered with MARS for about seven years. The time we spend on MARS activities is fun and enjoyable.”
“I have volunteered with MARS for about seven years and enjoy the fact that in some small capacity we are helping a necessary organization. Met some terrific folks that are great role models.”