X ray vision saves animals’ lives

When the patient from Old Crow arrived at the exam room, X-rays showed his left leg was shattered. There was a bullet lodged at the base of his spine. The second patient was so badly hurt there was nothing staff could do.

When the patient from Old Crow arrived at the exam room, X-rays showed his left leg was shattered. There was a bullet lodged at the base of his spine.

The second patient was so badly hurt there was nothing staff could do.

Both patients were ravens, brought in for treatment at the Yukon Wildlife Preserve. The staff of the Takhini Hotsprings Road facility don’t know who shot the two birds, but that doesn’t mitigate the sadness of losing one of them.

Just over three weeks later, the surviving raven from Old Crow is doing pretty well, and that buoys Greg Meredith’s hopes a little.

“The bones of his tibia were completely crushed. He’s come a long way. He’s starting to put weight on his leg again, and that’s good,” said Meredith, the wildlife preserve’s executive director.

A big part of that success is the preserve’s new $50,000 X-ray machine. The preserve finally got their hands on the machine on June 12, and they’ve already started putting it to good use.

In addition to the preserve’s collection of animals, which are on display for the public, they also have one little lamb and about a half-dozen avian guests right now, many with various maladies. When injured animals come in, they often have broken bones. With birds, because of their fragile, hollow bones, injuries can be particularly nasty. That means having a clear image is especially important for the wildlife preserve’s vet, Michelle Oakley.

“We’ve also used it on our great grey owl,” Meredith said.

“He’s a very cool critter. He got hit by a car and broke his wing. We see a lot of broken wings here. He also lost one of his eyes, but didn’t even move a muscle while Michelle put saline drops into his eye,” Meredith said.

Before they got the X-ray machine, Oakley would have sent the animals to a clinic in Whitehorse. Even two images would cost $260 and precious time. For seriously injured birds, X-ray costs could sometimes be as high as $1,000 per animal. It would also put a lot of needless stress on the animals, said Marie Hollack, the preserve’s curator.

But the new X-ray machine will allow the centre to care for about 40 to 50 injured birds and animals every year more cheaply, quickly and safely.

“It’s all digital, and everything is portable,” said Meredith. “Now we can take them when and where we need them. We can take it out in the field. If we have an elk or a goat that we need to X-ray, how else would you do that? Imagine trying to get an X-ray of a bison. This way, we can.”

The X-ray machine is the latest addition to the preserve’s new $2-million animal-care facility.

“It’s a pretty skookum building,” Meredith said. “It’s even got a hoist and hydraulic lift table in the receiving bay so we can move large animals like moose or elk. Everything that dies, we do a full necropsy on.”

Every room has a camera with infrared capabilities, so staff can watch how the animals behave when there are no people around.

The building is also set up with large windows in the main exam room so they can use it as a teaching area. Meredith said over the past school year, they had more than 600 students come through to tour the facilities and learn about caring for wildlife.

But even though the state-of-the-art building has been finished for two years, Meredith said they still struggle to find enough financing to equip it with everything they need. The building was paid for with federal funds, and the X-ray machine is a big step forward, but they still need money for a proper surgery table and a few other things on the wish list.

Even so, the centre is still managing to save a lot of animals. Among their permanent guests is the one-eyed great grey owl, a partially-blind red-tailed hawk, and a bald eagle with a permanently broken wing who shares an enclosure with an anti-social snowy owl.

The raven from Old Crow, however, won’t be staying around too much longer. He’s almost healed, and will be going home once he gets a clean bill of health. He will, however, return with a souvenir of sorts. He gets to keep his bullet.

“It doesn’t really hurt anything. It’ll just sit there, so it’s hard to justify the surgery,” Hallock said.

Contact Jesse Winter at

jessew@yukon-news.com