After 27 years rescuing endangered animals from across southwestern BC, Norm Snihur is now on a quest to find what is arguably the most elusive quarry of his career: a successor.
At 83 years old, Norm Snihur has one more mission to complete.
After spending 27 years rescuing endangered animals from across southwestern BC, Snihur is now on a quest to find what is arguably the most elusive quarry of his career: a successor.
It all started in 1994 when Snihur, a retired airline pilot living in Delta, was volunteering with the Orphan Wildlife Rehabilitation Society (OWL). He overheard staff wondering how they were going to rescue an injured eagle from a small island in the Fraser River.
Snihur, who owned a nearby two-seat helicopter, suggested that he take someone there. Twenty minutes later, the eagle had landed… safely.
From then on, Snihur was BC’s winged wildlife hero, available at any time of any day to rescue anyone from anywhere. And not just for OWL.
He would fly for free to any rehabilitation center that needed his aeronautical prowess. Consequently, it scored a big scorecard: 2,894.5 hours of flight time in aid of 235 eagles, 272 owls, 176 hawks, 501 songbirds and waterfowl, 399 seals, and 389 mammals, including otters, raccoons, fawns, squirrels and minks.
Miraculously, he only got hurt once. In 2008 she flew a rehabilitated bald eagle from OWL to Gabriola Island near Nanaimo where, with the help of an indigenous elder, she was to let the eagle go.
As usual, the eagle’s talons were wrapped and the bird wore a hood. The plan was for the old man to hold the bird’s legs while Snihur removed its hood and unwrapped its claws.
Somehow the old man let go of one of the eagle’s legs, allowing it to sink a claw into Snihur’s left hand.
Fortunately, there were other people on the scene with enough first aid to allow Snihur to fly to Nanaimo Regional General Hospital for treatment. When asked how much she hurt, the incorrigibly unassuming pilot replied, “It caught my eye.”
Otherwise, nothing seemed to faze him.
“Mammals are pretty straightforward,” he says. “You just have to keep your hand off his teeth. And the only skunks I was carrying were babies, so I never got sprayed.”
Snihur would still be at the controls of his California-made blue-and-white Robinson R22 were it not for a hip replacement two years ago that made it impossible to fly. So, in September 2021, he made his swan song, flying an injured owl from Salt Spring Island to Delta.
It wasn’t just heartbreaking for him. OWL General Manager Rob Hope said, “What didn’t he do for OWL? He didn’t just fly his helicopter for us; in the winter he would use his tractor to remove the snow around the compound”.
Brandon Dean of Critter Care recalled, “He was always there when we needed him. He was there for us no matter the time or day. Every rescue he did was admirable, and because his helicopter was so small and maneuverable, he was able to land it on our lawn.”
Snihur, who now lives in Nanaimo, has approached flying clubs across BC looking for someone to take his place.
So far he has found six recruits, one of whom gave his first otter to Critter Care last week. But all six have fixed-wing aircraft, which means they have to land at airports. That adds complexity and travel time to the rescue. Not only that, four are employed, which means they can only fly on weekends.
So Snihur continues his search, which means if you or someone you know can fill his boots, he’d love to hear from you. Email him at [email protected].
Although he has stopped flying, Snihur and his wife, Lorinne Anderson, continue to rescue wildlife across Vancouver Island.
“If it’s a deer, I’ll take my truck. It’s a little smaller, we take his truck,” she says.
In a letter to rehabbers he had worked with over the years, Snihur wrote, “While I may be closing the hangar door forever, it does NOT mean ANY WAY rocking in the porch chairs! Lorinne and I will continue to provide a 24/7 response for wildlife rescue, triage, and vehicle transportation, so please don’t hesitate to call us if you need our help for any reason.”
Former Vancouver Sun reporter Nicholas Read’s latest books are A Home Away From Home: True Stories of Wild Animal Sanctuaries and Caring for Critters: One Year at a Wildlife Rescue Centre. Both are published by Heritage House Publishing.
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