By Vanessa Broadbent
Tipsy, a great horned owl, has food poisoning. But it’s not the kind he’ll get over in a day or two.
Tipsy ate a mouse that had consumed rodent poison and now he’s also suffering from the effects.
Luckily, the South Okanagan Rehabilitation Centre for Owls (SORCO) heard about Tipsy’s ailment and was able to bring him into their care and treat him with an antidote, but he was already suffering from loss of vision and was paralyzed.
“He was infected about three days before we got him, before anyone noticed him,” Dale Belvedere, SORCO’s manager, said.
The home owners of the nearby house spotted Tipsy and were able to let SORCO know. They admitted to using poison, which allowed Belvedere to treat against it right away.
“The owl had started to shut down,” she said. “Had they not admitted it, we would have looked at possible electrocution or starvation and by that time the bird would probably have been dead.”
Thanks to being on a “very, very strong med regime,” Belvedere said that Tipsy’s sight has returned and he is starting to regain some strength in his legs.
Despite the progress, it’s still unsure if he’ll completely beat the effects of the poison.
“We can’t even say whether he’ll make it or not.”
But Tipsy might not be the only one suffering from the poison. Spring is mating season for owls and as the primary hunter, it’s likely that his mate was waiting for him to return with food. She might have also eaten a poisoned mouse.
Now, without him around, how his family will get more food is unsure. They might not, or they might get another contaminated meal.
Although poison is commonly used to cure rodent infestations, Belvedere said most users don’t realize comes with more problems.
“It’s a very cruel death to the actual rodent and if any raptor or mammal or house pet would ingest that infected rodent, in turn they get infected,” she explained.
Despite these dangers, Belvedere said that rodent poison is actually becoming more common.
SORCO used to feed their raptors with donated rodents but can’t anymore. The risks are too high.
“We stopped it because we know everybody is out there poisoning them and even though we’ll get calls from a vineyard that says they’re organic and don’t spray or put out poison, their neighbours might,” Belvedere said. “We can’t take the chance.”
Instead, SORCO has to breed their own rats to ensure that their birds stay healthy.
Now SORCO is pleading with people to not use poison. Instead, Belvedere suggests using “good old-fashioned traps.”
“You have no control when you use poison,” she said.
“I understand using traps, you have to maintain them and go out and check them, you have to bait them – but at least you’re not putting someone’s pet cat in jeopardy.”
Belvedere said that poison also comes with other problems: often, rodents that eat it end up dying in the walls of a house, which comes with an “awful odour” and a “very expensive repair job” to remove it.
“We just wanted to get across the fact that there are other ways of taking care of this problem.”