Angelika Langen says she
and her husband Peter were inspired to start the Northern
Lights Wildlife Society after she read a newspaper article. It
described how a mother moose had been fatally struck by a
train, and that her babies had to be killed because there was
no facility to care for them.
"Given that the two of us
have a background working in zoos [in Germany], we felt that
in situations like this we could help," says Langen. "So we
got some credentials together and took them to the Ministry,
thinking they’d be delighted to see us. To our big surprise
they weren’t delighted at all. So from there we pursued this
more earnestly and it took us four years to finally get the
first permit to start the shelter."
That was in 1989 when the
Langens first started running the refuge for orphaned and
injured wildlife. Today they accept all animals and birds from
across British Columbia, but specialize in moose, deer and
bear (they are the first to care for Grizzlies), as shelters
able to provide refuge to larger mammals are less common in
Throughout the 90s, the
Langens operated their shelter part time and funded it
themselves. But their services became so popular that they had
a choice—either restrict the number of animals they cared for
or transform it into a full time endeavour.
They opted for the latter
and formed the Northern Lights Wildlife Society in 2001; a
year later it was a registered charity. Langen says there are
numerous advantages for having charitable status. "Being a
charity opens those doors that you can ask for funding from
foundations and that allowed us to build better facilities and
so on," she says. "It just opened a whole new opportunity of
funding for us that we wouldn’t have had if we weren’t a
registered charity." Langen adds that she and her husband like
the fact that as a registered charity they are held
accountable by guidelines that detail how they can spend
funds, so that the bulk goes directly to the cause.
While grants from
foundations tend to be project-specific, Northern Lights still
needs funds for daily operational costs, such as food, medical
supplies and transportation for rescues and releases back to
the wild. For this, they rely on the generosity of the public
via donations and memberships.
Present day, Northern
Lights being a "full time endeavour" for the Langens and three
volunteers may be an understatement. As Langen chats with
HobbyFirm, she describes the next day’s agenda: they would be
driving some bears more than 1,000 km away to release them
back to the wild, while others stayed behind to care, all day,
for the moose and bears staying at the shelter; they were also
on call to pick up some moose being rescued 250 km away.
But the long hours, day
after day, are worth it for Langen. "I think the overall
reward is that we are able to make a difference," she says.
"We are able to offset the human impact on our environment a
little bit by offering animals, that otherwise wouldn’t
survive, a second chance…Going out yesterday was a long, long
day, but when we opened those doors and let those bears out
and they ran away [back into their natural habitat]—that is
the biggest reward you can get."
One valuable piece of
advice that Langen has for starting a charitable organization
is to do so with the long term in mind. This means devoting to
a cause you are wholeheartedly passionate about and ensuring
you are able to maintain it into the future, especially when
it offers services that a community or region becomes reliant
"You need to take care of
yourself in order to keep your charity healthy," she says. "If
you don’t take care of yourself and you burn out, then that’s
detrimental to the charity. So involving others, sharing the
burden and thinking about succession (who is going to take
over when you get older), those kinds of things are really
important if you really want this to work."
Northern Lights WIldlife Society