“Is it real?” a wide-eyed Taylor Auld asked.
She was leaving the Otter Coop store in Aldergrove on Sunday, Nov. 25, with her mother when the 11-year-old from Abbotsford saw the owl on Jenna Kissel’s arm.
“Does she look real?” Kissel laughed.
Then, Small Eyes shifted slightly on Kissel’s arm, rotating her head 270 degrees to track the sound of Taylor’s voice.
“It was so still,” Taylor remarked.
For a donation of $5 to the Langley-based Spotted Owl Breeding program, the delighted Taylor was able to pose for a selfie with Small Eyes.
She was one of about 100 people who had their pictures taken with the 10-year-old owl and that, along with people who donated without having photos taken, raised about $800 for the program that aims to bring the rare owls back from the brink of extinction.
It was one of four fundraising events held by the non-profit breeding program over the weekend, which included two guided tours of the 25-acre breeding facility, and an appearance at an H.D. Stafford school Christmas market.
Donations from all events totalled $1,700, above the $1,500 target set for the whole holiday season, so the target has been raised to $2,500.
At the Co-op, Kissel, a wildlife technician with the program, explained Small Eyes got her name after she was born at the breeding centre and diagnosed with bilateral microphthamia, a developmental disorder where her eye are abnormally small.
She has also developed cataracts in both eyes.
“She can only see shadows and motion,” Jessel related.
Because Small Eyes can’t see well enough to bond with a male, she isn’t part of the breeding program.
If it wasn’t for her outings as an educational ambassador for the program, Small Eyes wouldn’t have much to occupy her time, volunteer Cathy Smith observed.
“She’s always in her aviary doing nothing,” Smith said.
Small Eyes is the only glove-trained Northern Spotted Owl in all of Canada.
For more than a decade, people at the centre have been trying to save the northern spotted owl from extinction by breeding them in captivity for eventual release back into the wild.
They are getting closer to their goal.
“We just had our most successful breeding season [this year],” Kissel told the Langley Advance Times.
“We had five babies this season, which is the most we’ve ever had.
There are now six breeding pairs at the Langley aviary, which has a goal of producing 10 to 20 young each year that will be released into over 200,000 hectares of protected old-growth forest in the Pemberton area.
Financial support for the project has come from the Fish and Wildlife Compensation Program, a partnership to conserve and enhance fish and wildlife between BC Hydro, the provincial government, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, First Nations and other stakeholders.
Those who wish to volunteer with the Langley owl breeding program can email firstname.lastname@example.org.
There is also a Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/nsobreedingprogram.