The Calgary Journal
The Calgary Journal

For as long as Holly Duvall can remember she always had a love for wildlife. She started her career by working with tigers and lions to getting her hands dirty saving animals from oil spills. But now she’s trying to find funding to keep open the Alberta Institute for Wildlife Conservation while not losing her hands on skills.

“I think just continuously throughout my teenage years just going into different animal situations and working with such a variety of animals really led me to wanting to work with wildlife,” says Duvall.

That experience began at her high school’s farm in England, when she helped look after the “chickens, ducks and rabbits.” Duvall said she became the farm’s manager when she was around 13 or 14 years old.

From there, Duvall moved to the United States where she started volunteering for In-Sync Exotics – a Texas-based organization that helps rescue big cats that were taken in as pets. “It was fantastic and it really solidified that that’s what I wanted to do with my life in some capacity,” says Duvall.

“I would never want to lose my skills as a wildlife rehabilitator, that’s something really important to me.”                                        – Holly Duvall

That capacity turned out to be responding to the damaged caused to animals by oil spills as a wildlife rehabilitator and oiled wildlife specialist for Focus Wildlife, which is based in Edmonton.

Duvall’s co-worker at Focus Wildlife, Marie Travers says the two of them got to know one another very quickly during a 37-day period – “most of which we spent hiking around in the forest relocating frogs in really hot and heavy gear.”

Travers and Duvall found most of their attention focused on birds during the spills.

“Well normally it’s birds that are impacted by oil, by the time they’re caught they are in bad shape because they’ve lost their waterproofing... So they stop eating and they are not able to hold their temperatures so they’re feeling pretty bad,” says Travers.

Duvall says, “It’s very hard seeing the animals in those conditions, so that’s quite hard as well and the days are long so that kind of compounds everything.”

Duvall then worked for the Wildlife Rehabilitation Society of Edmonton. Michelle Fournier, who worked with Duvall for four years there says that members of the public “would come by and drop off an injured animal they found.”

Afterward, they would do “a full intake exam, so physical examination of the animal” and “figure out a plan of action for it.”

Fournier says Duvall has always been driven and dedicated to the work she is doing.

deskbody3Duvall works hard at her desk where she takes care of the administration side of the organization, taking a break from her usual hands on care. Photo by Shelby Pedersen

“I remember she tried to have weekends off, and at the time she was living very close to the rehab, like right next door, so to her weekends off were not like weekends off.”

Eventually Duvall became the executive director for The Alberta Institute for Wildlife Conservation, where her role has changed from gloves on, to gloves off work.

The Alberta Institute for Wildlife Conservation, or AIWC, was founded in 1993 and is located in a hamlet about 45 minutes from Calgary. The institute takes care of Alberta’s injured, orphaned and oiled wildlife.

Duvall was first hired as a technician and a couple months later was promoted to executive director.

“So it’s more all of the administration, fundraising, big picture items for the organization,” explains Duvall.

One of those big picture items has been trying to keep the institute funded.

“What we’re trying to do is create an awareness, just highlighting the need for why it’s important to help wildlife centers like ours and others in the province,” Duvall says.

Some of the ways Duvall plans to raise awareness is through their education program or public service announcements.

“Especially with the downturn in the economy, we have to really ensure that we can keep our doors open to help the wildlife in need,” says Duvall.

Nevertheless, Duvall also tries to make time for her clinical work.

“I would never want to lose my skills as a wildlife rehabilitator, that’s something really important to me,” says Duvall.

In fact, Fournier says, “When I found out she was going to be executive director of AIWC, I was kind of wondering about that too, how much animal one on one care she’d still be getting but it seems every time I talk to her, she is down there at least once a week, if not more.”

Duvall currently lives in Edmonton AB, and drives the 2.5-hour commute to the clinic weekly.

“She burns with this passion for it, but she also runs the risk of burning herself at both ends because she does try to do everything and cares so much,” says Fournier.

bodyhollyoutsidefacilityDuvall stands within the Alberta Institute for Wildlife Conservation facility, located 45 minutes away from Calgary. Photo by Shelby Pedersen

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