Before last summer, Washington State University’s Veterinary Teaching Hospital had not treated a snowy owl in more than six years. But in June and July, its exotic animal care service had to treat two of them. Both suffered gunshot wounds, and both were from Barrow, the northernmost city in Alaska.
The first owl was hunting the Alaskan tundra about 300 miles from the Artic Circle when he was shot. He was found a few days later and taken to Dr. Gregg Black for treatment.
Black stabilized the bird but was unable to treat Jacob over a long period of time. He arranged to have him flown to the WSU teaching hospital by Alaska and Horizon Airlines. The carrier provides free air transportation to and from the veterinary college for injured birds of prey.
Jacob’s left elbow had been destroyed, and he had a deep puncture wound in his stomach. He would live, but he would never fly again.
Snowy owls commonly live in the open tundra of northernmost Canada and Alaska. They grow to be about two feet high, with a five-foot wingspan. They prefer open country and perch on the ground or rooftops, but now Jacob has had to learn to rest on a log perch.
The second owl was found on the tundra by a tourist from Kuwait and was also sent to Black’s clinic. But its wounds were more serious than Jacob’s. The owl had a gunshot wound through the tip of his right wing and a rifle slug buried against his pelvis on the opposite side.
Kristi Ilyankoff, a WSU junior in wildlife ecology and president of the WSU Raptor Club, was volunteering at the exotic ward when this owl reached the hospital.
“When he first came in, he was really alert and standing up and aggressive,” Ilyankoff says. “He didn’t have a bandage on . . . because he had torn it off.”
Even though surgery was performed, his injuries were too severe for him to ever fly again.
As a result, his fate is the same as Jacob’s. Neither will never return to the wild.