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LETTER: Veterinarian from New Waterford now ‘soaring with the eagles’

Helene Van Doninck
Dr. Van Doninck and her husband Murdo founded the Cobequid Wildlife Rehabilitation Center in Brookfield. STAFF PHOTO

Conservation enthusiasts and wildlife associations were dealt a blow this past weekend with the news that Dr. Helene Van Doninck, DVM, passed away after a very courageous battle, and we offer heartfelt condolences.

Our organization, the Port Morien Wildlife Association (PMWA), had the honour of having Helene contribute her vast knowledge on lead poisoning in birds of prey as part of our Loon Nesting Platform Project. She jumped at the opportunity to educate high school students and the public at sessions we hosted at Breton Education Centre (where the New Waterford native graduated from) and Glace Bay high schools.

I might add that she scheduled these presentations around her medical treatment so as not to miss an opportunity to educate on the dangers that lead ammunition and tackle have on humans and wildlife alike.

Helene told Cape Breton Post reporter Sharon Montgomery at one of these sessions that, in 2017, of the 27 eagles she treated 19 were treated for lead poison.

Dr. Van Doninck and her husband Murdo founded the Cobequid Wildlife Rehabilitation Center in Brookfield. Jeff McNeil and myself had the opportunity to visit her after one of her medical treatments and she insisted on showing us her eagle enclosure that they built. This oval-shaped structure (the only one of its kind in Canada) allows the birds to strengthen their flying ability while rehabbing.

In this facility with these majestic creatures flying within five feet of your head I could actually feel the downward air pressure from their wings. Some were still too sick to fly and we were able to view them from close range. Their size is incredible.

While we were there I couldn’t help but notice some volleyballs and beach balls. When I asked Helene if the birds played with them she said that no one has seen them, but every time they come in the enclosure the balls are in a different position. She added with excitement that a wireless company was finally making its way to her property and she was hoping to get live feeds of the facility to see what goes on behind closed doors.

The PMWA has received a grant from the Nova Scotia Anglers & Hunters Habitat Conservation Fund to promote awareness on the dangers of using lead ammo and tackle, and in particular its effects on eagles. We will be using (with permission) data that Dr. Van Doninck created that shows the correlation of the effects that lead has on eagles and other birds of prey. We have in our possession a deceased eagle (electrocuted) that was received from the Department of Lands and Forestry along with an education permit. This eagle is presently at the taxidermy and our goal is to reach as many schools across the province and attend Sport & Recreation Shows to promote the awareness that Dr. Van Doninck so strongly believed in.

We were very hopeful that Helene could be part of this journey but realize that decision wasn’t ours to make.

The Port Morien Wildlife Associations prayer for you Helene is that: “Your soul is soaring with the eagles that you have saved.”

Stan Peach

Port Morien

(On behalf of all PMWA members)

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