Beastly baby badger learns the ropes from costumed caregivers

An orphaned baby badger is learning how to survive in the wild with the help of "costumed caregivers" at a rescue facility west of Edmonton.

'We were very surprised to receive this wee little girl this spring'

This baby badger was found abandoned alongside a road southeast of Edmonton. (Wild North)

An orphaned baby badger is learning how to survive in the wild with the help of "costumed caregivers" at a rescue facility west of Edmonton.

Staff at the Wild North rehabilitation centre have been donning custom-made masks and fur suits to care for the abandoned creature.

The strange wardrobe will ensure the curmudgeonly little animal doesn't develop an affinity for humans, said Dale Gienow, a manager with the wildlife rescue.

"When it's young and its eyes are not open yet, it's not as much of a problem," Gienow said in an interview with CBC Radio's Edmonton AM.

"But as soon as those eyes open, they start to clear, they start to focus, we don't want them to look at their caregivers as humans.

"We actually have, well, costumes that members of our staff actually wear," he said.

"You can't get those at Walmart, so we have to create them in-house."
Staff at the Wild North rescue centre wear these masks around their baby animal wards. (Wild North)
The badger was found in April, abandoned on the side of a highway southeast of Edmonton.

The badger is part of a menagerie of rescue animals at Wild North's rescue facility that also includes a beaver, a peregrine falcon, and a pelican. The facility is in Parkland County, west of Edmonton.

The badger is the first one they've cared for in the last 15 years, Gienow said. 

"We were very surprised to receive this wee little girl this spring. We rarely get badgers," said Gienow.  

"We really don't know how it came to be orphaned but there was clearly no mom in sight."

'A badger-coloured outfit'

The badger, now 6 months old, will be released back into the forest near where she was found early next month. Staff at the rescue operation have been working hard to prepare her for life in the wild.

After weeks of bottle feeding, they are now teaching the badger how to find food and shelter.

To do that, they have to channel their best mother badger, said Gienow. A costume, specifically designed for the task, is being put to good use.

"It's a badger-coloured outfit with the mask and the whole bit to fool the badger into thinking whatever is entering its environment is not actually people," Gienow said.

"Now that the badger is getting very close to being released, it's actually being taken out and will walk with this costumed caregiver, if you will, in the field to learn to forage for itself."

Cantankerous carnivores

Workers are being extra cautious to ensure the badger doesn't become habituated to humans because of the badger's "fearsome reputation," Gienow said.

Badgers are stout, powerful and cantankerous carnivores. Members of the weasel family, they are reclusive animals that become extremely aggressive when threatened.

Badgers have been known to take on black bears in a battle for food, and can be fearless in their fight for survival.

"Badgers have a fight response," said Gienow. "It's nothing we really have to worry about, but I certainly wouldn't want to corner it or try to take his food away, that's for sure."
 Even as a baby, the badger is a force to be reckoned with, he said.

"You wouldn't believe, for such a little creature, the ferocious and intimidating sounds that come out of it," said Gienow. "They can growl and they can almost scream.

"It's more bluster than anything else, but it's enough to make the hair stand up on the back your neck, that's for sure."

Listen to Edmonton AM with host Mark Connolly, weekday mornings at CBC Radio One, 93.9 FM in Edmonton. Follow the morning crew on Twitter @EdmAMCBC