My Green Job: Andrew Wight, Rescue Team Manager, Toronto Wildlife Centre

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When a wild animal needs help, this wildlife rescuer is on the case.

If you’re an injured bird or a trapped animal in Toronto, you’re glad to have Andrew Wight on call. He’s the Rescue Team Manager at the Toronto Wildlife Centre, a charitable wildlife rescue organization whose mission is to help people coexist with the wild animals in their midst, offer education and advice about how to deal with wildlife that’s in danger, and provide medical treatment to “sick, injured, or orphaned wild animals with the ultimate goal of releasing healthy animals back into the wild.” Since opening in 1993, over 270 different species have been admitted for care. With help from volunteers and donors, Toronto Wildlife Centre has grown into Canada’s largest and busiest wildlife centre, and a leader in the field of wildlife rehabilitation. Andrew has been involved with Toronto Wildlife Centre for over 25 years. 

man in kayak with net and plastic bag
Andrew captures a cygnet in need of help and brings it into his kayak. – Courtesy of Toronto Wildlife Centre

Alec Ross: How did you get into this work? 

Andrew Wight: I started off as a co-op student in high school. I was unaware that wildlife rehabilitation even existed, but I had a great interest in domestic animals and wild animals and was doing some co-op placements through school at vet clinics, which I thoroughly enjoyed. And then someone suggested I might enjoy the Toronto Wildlife Center. So, I tried it out and loved it. And it seems they loved me, too. I had a great year during that placement. After I finished high school, I went back just to get volunteer hours for resumes, not knowing exactly what I was going to do, maybe go into emergency services, etc. But during that time, they were developing the Rescue Department, and they offered me a job. I accepted, and the rest is history. 

AR: How does your job differ from working, say, at the Humane Society? 

AW: A lot of rehab centres rely on the public to contain animals and bring them in. Unfortunately, there are a lot of situations where you can’t ask members of the public to be retrieving animals that are potentially in danger. The public shouldn’t be expected to go on a roof or into swift water or confined spaces, things like that. And the animals themselves might be dangerous. If they can’t fly away or run away, they’re going to see the human as a predator, and they’re going to fight. 

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AR: Is there a most common animal that you rescue?

AW: Not really, because every season is different. Through the winter months, we’re after a lot of foxes and coyotes that suffer from mange, a skin parasite that irritates them to the point that they stop taking care of themselves. During the winter, they’re much more obvious because they don’t camouflage in the bushes and forests and parks, so a lot of people see them. 

AR: We’re heading into the spring before too long. What do you expect to see as the weather starts to warm up?

AW: In spring, we swing right into baby season. We get inundated in May and June with duck and goose families that decide to nest on condo rooftops and balconies, barbecue areas, and green roofs to avoid mammal predators. There might be some aerial predators, but the geese and ducks are kind of safe there. But once these little ducklings and goslings are born, the parents want to show them the way to the nearest water source, which is three or four floors down from some of these rooftop nest sites. And if they do find a way off the balcony, you can just imagine how dangerous falling from that height would be. We just hope that people find them before that happens and contact our wildlife centre or the rehabilitation centre in their area and try to get help. We end up capturing the bird families and moving them to the closest body of water, which is where they need to be after they’re born. 

AR: What about in the summer? 

AW: Through the summer, we have all the different babies that are just kind of learning urban life and getting into trouble. Unfortunately, humans have created many, many puzzles for these animals to figure out and a lot of them are very dangerous and cause injury.

AR: Tell me about some of your more recent rescues.

AW: Gosh, we do so many. We bring in about 6,000 animals every year. Every day is predictably unpredictable, I like to say. But one significant recent case was a male turkey who decided to make its territory on the Warden on-ramp to Highway 401, which is a major highway that travels through Toronto. We were getting a lot of reports of sightings. Usually, we don’t intervene when an animal’s not sick or injured, but this scenario was getting more and more dangerous because this turkey was near traffic, and we were concerned he might cause an accident. He had stopped traffic and was pecking at cars. People were enjoying getting a close look at him, but it wasn’t safe for anyone. So, we decided to attempt a capture. Fortunately, Toronto Police Services was able to assist us on site. We got a perfect opportunity where the turkey was funnelled between a car and a wall.  I was in the right place at the right time and was able to catch the turkey with a net. But man, this turkey was probably the strongest bird I’ve ever handled. The strength in those wings trying to escape from my grip was very impressive. We were able to take the turkey to a much safer environment where he could be much, much more at home. 

man holding turkey on the ground
Andrew captured a wild turkey that had been wandering the busy streets of a Scarborough neighbourhood for a few months. The fearless fowl made Toronto news after weaving through heavy traffic, dangerously close to a highway 401 on-ramp. – Courtesy of Toronto Wildlife Centre

AR: 6,000 rescues seems like a lot! Why are there so many animals needing rescue?

AW: Unfortunately, large cities have created so many problems for wildlife. A raccoon can get its head stuck in a thrown-out peanut butter jar, or ducks can get tangled up in old fishing lines. Turtles try to cross busy roads. And there’s habitat loss. Occasionally, because of that, an animal you don’t regularly see in the city, like a deer or that turkey, makes its way down and then they get into a rescue scenario. We were fortunate with how the turkey one turned out. 

AR: You’re my hero! Tell me about the training you’ve taken to handle all those scenarios.

AW: There’s not a lot of training, especially in Canada, strictly for animal rescuers. Fortunately, we’ve been able to get a lot of training through different emergency services that have given us swift water training, at-height training, and more extreme scenario training. A lot of these courses are not designed for wildlife rescue. But we know how to handle the animals. We just need to know how to stay safe while we get to the animals. That’s why it’s been great working with other agencies that do human rescue. We’ve been able to adapt a lot of their skill sets to our needs. 

fox running out of carrier
Andrew and team member, Sarrah, released a young red fox and his two siblings after they had been cured of mange. – Courtesy of Toronto Wildlife Centre

AR: Have you ever had to do anything unorthodox to save an animal? Like, do CPR on a cat?

AW: We’re strictly wild wildlife, but if there was a cat in distress that we came upon, we would do our best to help. But no, I have not tried cat CPR. I would if I felt it was the right thing to do. 

We have a veterinarian on hand, so we get the animals back to the wildlife centre as quickly as we can. And then they do their medicine on these animals. It’s incredible what our rehab department and veterinary department can do. Some of the animals I bring back I think don’t have a chance, but weeks later, I’m releasing them, which is an unbelievable feeling. And we’re so thankful we can do this for these individuals, because at the end of the day, at Toronto Wildlife Center, we care about each animal. Populations are important, but each individual creates a population, and we care about every single one.

man in waders with net
Andrew safely captures an injured loon. – Courtesy of Toronto Wildlife Centre

AR: How can somebody interested in this work get into it, and what are their career prospects? 

AW: When I first got into wildlife rehabilitation, it felt like it was kind of an up-and-coming field. Nowadays, people have more of a green view and want to do good for the environment and the wildlife they coexist with, so it feels like we’re getting somewhere. But there’s a great need for more wildlife rehabilitators like us. If people are looking to get into this field, places like the Toronto Wildlife Center and others throughout Canada and North America will give you ample opportunity to volunteer and see if you like it. If you do and you excel at it, there might be an opportunity to get a job. 

AR: How much can a full-time rescuer expect to earn in a year?

AW: You’ll never get rich. But the joy wildlife rescue brings to you can make it a great career choice for a lot of people. (According to the International Wildlife Rehabilitation Council, on average, a rescuer can make between $20,000 and $40,000 per year.) 

man on the shoreline freeing swan
Andrew scaled a rocky shoreline, wading into the freezing water to rescue a mute swan who had become frozen in ice. The patient was given supportive care at TWC and was eventually released. – Courtesy of Toronto Wildlife Centre

AR: How is the Toronto Wildlife Centre funded?  

AW: The centre is strictly or almost completely reliant on donations. And the more donations we receive, the more work we can do out there to help sick, injured, and orphaned wildlife and educate the public to make sure coexistence happens. So, there’s always a great, great need for gifts from members of the public, both local and abroad.

Visit the Toronto Wildlife Centre webpage to find out what to do if you find an injured or orphaned animal. They also have answers to common wildlife questions, such as “How can I keep wildlife and my pet cat safe outdoors?”, “Is the wild animal in my backyard dangerous?”, and “A bird hit my window, what should I do?”


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Alec Ross
Alec Ross
Veteran freelance writer and author Alec Ross lives in Kingston, Ontario.
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