On vacation by myself this week, I am making good use of the camera where possible. I started the week off with a visit to the Toronto Zoo. Its not the same as going for a walk in the woods and finding wildlife in my travels; but then again, where else in Toronto can you find Lions and Tigers and Bears... and Snowy Owls (in September)?
I hadn't been to the Zoo in a couple years, not since sometime after they first opened their Tundra Exhibit back in August 2009. I don't think I ever blogged about that experience and will probably touch upon it at the end of this one.
I got there for opening at 9:30am. I went right for the Tigers and was happy to see one still awake and active for a few minutes, capturing a few portrait photos of this magnificent cat. And from there just walked the paths seeing all the other outdoor creatures including Elephants, Rhinos, the White Lions and so on. I hit the Tundra Exhibit last as I knew I would get lost with all the beautiful northern creatures, and have a main focus on the Snowy Owls. Why? Well, after the incident a couple years ago and more so after the experience with so many Snowys this past winter during the irruption, it was nice to see these creatures once again. It definitely is not the same as seeing the ones in the wild, but it is the closest I could ever be to see one alive.
Everyone loves Snowy Owls. Even the least of the animal admirers in the world. They are beautiful creatures. The pure white adult males strike everyone. But you can't knock the spotty females and juvis either.
So, it was like a shot to the heart when I finally made it over the see the pair of Snowy Owls and find the male in this condition as seen in the photo below.
Besides his physical appearance, he does seem okay otherwise. I watched him bathe and preen much of the 45 minutes or so that I spent with them. But seriously, what is up with that eye? And the left eye seems to be going the same route as the right as it's pinkish and irritated looking as well.
I watched people come and go from this enclosure. And like I said, everyone loves Snowy Owls. They all marveled at his beauty of being a big pure white Owl. What surprised me is how nobody took notice to his eyes, even when opened, well the one anyways. I wonder if they will see his condition when they go home and upload their photos?
I waited some time before I found a keeper in the Tundra area that I could talk to about this Owl's condition. The man was very vague and nonchalant about it, or maybe even evasive. He said it's been like that almost since the Owl arrived at the Zoo and that it was a mishap. I asked if the Owl scratched himself with his talon, or maybe the female did it to him. The answers were "no" and "no". I then asked if maybe a Bee had stung him? Owls can get Bee stings in their big yellow eyes because Bees can mistake them for large flowers. Once again the answer was a simple "no". He then said "it was mechanical" but wouldn't elaborate. What the heck does that mean? Did the Owl injure itself when first brought to the Zoo by ways of a freak out in the enclosure and hitting his face against something? I can only speculate.
The keeper ended our discussion with a "I will go have a look at him again". I felt it was more of a brush off than anything else. And through our talk, the man made little eye contact with me. I could tell he didn't want to have this talk with me. Did he have this discussion a thousand times already? Was he hiding the truth?
A friend of ours told me the Owl was like this back in the winter as well. So it's nothing new.
I've posted on the Zoo's Facebook page inquiring about him and shared a photograph. I wrote an email to the Zoo via their website as well.
Here is a photo of the female he shares the enclosure with. She was well hidden and over looked by most until I pointed her out to others. And it was pretty cool that I was able to share the little bit of Snowy Owl knowledge (and Owls in general) I have and talk about the irruption to a few.
After reading all the above, it may not strike some as deep as it does me. This blog is about this male Snowy Owl and maybe someone else reading it will either be able to shed more information on what is going on OR also make contact with the Zoo and perhaps bring further awareness to him and his condition? If that keeper I spoke with could have told me a great lie, the awful truth, whatever, I probably wouldn't be blogging about this right now. Maybe his condition is not nearly as severe as it seems? But the guy left me with nothing in the end.
I can now tell the part that I very lightly mentioned at the beginning of this blog about our first visit to the Tundra Exhibit and why seeing these birds was important to me.
Angie and I visited the exhibit not long after it opened. We were excited to see the Snowy Owls. Upon finding the Snowy enclosure, we were disappointed to not find any Owls within. From what I recall, there was four in the beginning (two adults and two chicks). We hung around for a bit until we saw someone who worked for the Zoo and asked him where the Owls were. He was saddened to tell us that they were recently killed by a wild Mink that broke into their enclosure and killed them all. I think shocked and confused should be added to our feelings of sadness.
We sat at the picnic area near the Arctic Wolves and had some lunch, trying to overcome this hit of terrible news. And eerily enough, there was a sudden gust of wind and what blew to our feet was one lone Snowy Owl feather. We picked it up, not exactly sure what to think, and brought the feather home with us.
Some months later, we learned through others, and some very reliable sources that in fact the Owls were not killed by a Mink at all; but that they perished in the summer heat due to unfitting conditions for Snowy Owls. How awful is that?
I always have mixed emotions about visiting the Zoo. I like to think they do more good than anything else, like with the Polar Bear and Penguin programs, and bringing awareness to many thousands of people every year. But maybe keeping Snowy Owls is not their thing?
My initial blog ended here with that last quote but I must add this below...
Whoever runs the Zoo's Facebook page started commenting back in the thread after a number of concerned comments were posted by others who saw the picture I shared with my initial concern. It was nice to get some sort of reply from them...
The Toronto Zoo Hello everybody, and thank you for your concern for our snowy owl.
This male owl continues to receive treatment for a stubborn eye injury and condition, which has perpetuated for well over a year. Both our Zoo Vets and specialists (animal opthalmologists) continue to monitor his condition and his eye on a regular basis, hopeful it will eventually heal with continued treatment.
At this point it's best for both his mental and physical well being to be in his exhibit, opposed to inside our animal health care centre.
Hopefully this provides you with some insight, and again, thank you for your concern!
Rob Mueller Hi. Thanks for this above post. Much appreciated. It might be a good idea to have Zoo workers in the Tundra area informed on what to tell concerned onlookers like myself. The man left me with nothing after inquiring. And the volunteer I spoke with had no idea anything was wrong and went into a bit of a panic mode.
The Toronto Zoo That's good advice, thank you for bringing it to our attention, Rob.
Meaghan Edwards Thanks for giving the head's up. I'm glad he's still allowed out on exhibit, fresh air does everyone good :) I think it might be a good idea to maybe put a sign up to inform of his care.
The Toronto Zoo Hi all, since this photo was posted our Zoo veterinary staff wanted to advise that his eye seemed to be improved today (open) and to also reassure our visitors that this snowy owl is very regularly monitored by both our specialists and our keepers. A sign communicating his condition is a great idea and something we will follow up with!
I've asked friends if they plan on visiting the Zoo over the Autumn season to please keep me informed on the Owl's progress, and share photos with me. I am pondering another visit later in the year with cooler weather and hopefully more active animals AND this Snowy Owl in a much healthier condition.