Friday, July 12, 2024




As the global pandemic took its mental and physical toll around the globe, a hidden treasure in a rural area of Central Vancouver Island became a healing place where visitors could regain a sense of normality and perspective.

Paradoxically, the North Island Wildlife Recovery Centre (NIWRA), a facility that cares for wildlife negatively affected by human activity, inadvertently began to serve the needs of those very humans who, too were in the grip of forces they could not control.

Founded in 1984 by Robin and Sylvia Campbell, NIWRA has evolved into a non-profit, world class facility situated on 8 acres of land near the community of Errington. Its mission is simple: rescue, rehabilitate, and release – and for those animals and birds whose injuries are so severe that they can’t be released, NIWRA provides a home for life.  

With the NIWRA mandate fulfilling 2 of Rotary’s 7 areas of focus – literacy and the environment – the Rotary Club of Parksville was pleased to commit $8000 from its fundraising efforts, to be used for the repair and enhancement of enclosures for the permanent residents.

NIWRA’s Animal Care Supervisor, Derek Downes, is passionate about his work and committed to giving the residents in his care the very best possible outcome from a traumatic and life-threatening event. 

Sadly, most injuries are the result of human impact, including vehicle collisions, electrocution, poisoning, and gunshot wounds. An apple core tossed into a ditch is a magnet for rodents and a potential disaster for raptors hunting alongside a busy highway.

Each resident has their own enclosure, custom-designed to suit individual needs, with signage telling the story that brought them to the Centre.  

With Vancouver Island weather, wood structures have a limited lifespan. There is a constant need to replace rotting fencing and improve enclosures. And when a resident dies, the needs of the next occupant are carefully considered.  

Derek is proud of the effort expended to make each of these enclosures as individual as the individuals who will inhabit them. 

Queen Alfreda has had a facelift to her enclosure, with enhancements designed specifically for her needs.

While Elsa, the Snowy Owl, would have lived on the tundra; thus her enclosure has been designed to accommodate her natural instinct for low flat surfaces.

Sacred White Ravens are iconic in the Oceanside area of Central Vancouver Island, and NIWRA is honoured to play a role in their stories. Blizzard is one of two White Ravens discovered abandoned on the ground. He is leucistic, which means he has a genetic mutation that results in a loss of pigmentation. Blizzard would not have survived in the wild.

After a year of intensive care, Blizzard has now been moved to a special enclosure which includes a heat lamp and foliage to shade him from the sun. He is a very gregarious bird and thrives on public attention, thus making him an excellent wildlife ambassador.

The Rotary Club of Parksville was delighted to have been a part of these improvements, but they weren’t done yet. When Parksville resident, Janet Walker, was looking for a worthy community project to support, she came to Rotary for its recommendation. Janet’s $5000 donation was directed to NIWRA and specifically to an exciting new project, a world-class Black Bear Education Pavilion. 

Bears have been successfully rehabilitated at the Centre since 1997, but the Education Pavilion will be an expansion into wildlife literacy, slated for completion in the spring of 2023.

Derek becomes animated when talking about this new initiative, as it will demonstrate how vital it is to preserve parts of the forest that are crucial for bear denning behaviour. Displays will be designed to celebrate Ursus Americanus Vancouveri, a black bear subspecies, and demonstrate the importance of minimizing our destructive impact on their survival. 

The message on the NIWRA website states: “They need us … we need you”. Parksville Rotarians and Janet Walker are pleased to support the educational and environmental initiatives carried out by NIWRA. Fostering wildlife literacy is the key to inspiring the public consider their impact and make a greater effort to live in harmony with the creatures who share our planet.  

…. even if it only starts by educating the public not to throw their apple cores into the ditch!

Diana Matsuda
Diana Matsuda
Rotary Club of Parksville AM
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