Jubilation filled the hearts of onlookers as Olaf the Owl was released from captivity and immediately took flight south of Vermilion on July 5.
Olaf had been entangled in a barbed wire fence on July 30, 2015, when Sue Chikie stopped to help. After a quick trip to get a cage to transport the Owl, Sue Chikie and Rod Hunter cut the wire holding the Owl captive and brought him to Vermilion.
“He still had a piece of barbed wire stuck in the joint of his wing,” said Chikie at the time.
When taken to Alberta Fish and Wildlife in Vermilion, they were advised that if the bird was left with them, he would most likely have been destroyed. Olaf was then taken to veterinarian, Dr. Tim Goodbrand, owner of the Vermilion Veterinary Clinic, who removed the piece of wire that had four barbs on it from the bird’s wing. Hunter then took the Owl to the WILDNorth Rehabilitation Centre in Edmonton.
Upon his arrival Kim Blomme, WILDNorth’s Director of Wildlife Services, identified that Olaf was a juvenile bird and said, “Structurally the bones are okay, nothing is broken and the shoulder is not dislocated which could easily have happened from all the thrashing around.”
Blomme went on to explain that since being found with one of his eyes yellow and one orange, that he likely experienced a broken blood vessel in the eye from all of the hanging and thrashing on the fence, but the eye shortly returned to normal.
The big concern at the time was tissue damage as the wound was right through the wing. In order to repair it, Olaf received approximately 12 sutures on each side.
Blomme explained at the time that the good news was that the ligament along the wing was still intact. She went on to say that there would be a problem with scar tissue affecting the wing extension.
In 2016 Olaf faced further challenges and underwent unconventional treatment.
“We were getting a bit dismayed by the lack of progress in gaining height when he was flying, so after another vet check and X rays, the vet suggested laser therapy. This is a first, the Owl is currently undergoing laser therapy in an attempt to break down scar tissue that has built up on the patagial ligament of the injured wing that is preventing him from flying properly.
Blomme said they were fortunate that the chiropractic vet just happened to be there when the laser treatments were being performed when she offered her services, which included feeling along the owl’s shoulder and spine. This bird has to hunt, it would be different if it was a grouse which just eats off the ground,” said Blomme in 2016.
Throughout the three years The Vermilion Voice kept in touch with WILDNorth and reported a few times on Olaf’s condition and at times it looked bleak; that he may even have to be put down, but they did not give up.
A phone call on July 3, 2018 from WILDNorth stating that Olaf could be released at his original home was a huge surprise for everyone.
According to WILDNorth, Olaf had been fed live mice and quail, which he was able to catch in his flight area at WILDNorth.
On several occasions, the staff at WILDNorth had to make judgement calls about his survival. Due to receiving expert care and having several people not give up on him, Olaf was scheduled for release on July 5.
Transferred near to the location he had been found, Olaf was surrounded by a group of supporters eager to witness his release.
“We were extremely happy to be able to release Olaf after so long in care. He required multiple surgeries and intensive training to fly and hunt again. We are grateful for your community’s interest in his well-being!” said Blomme.
“Everyone was excited for Olaf; it was a great feeling to know that he has a chance at survival. After three years of being in the rehabilitation centre, it was amazing to see him get a chance to spread his wings and fly freely in the area he was found. We will be watching out for Olaf,” said Chikie.