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Future of Canada’s exotic bird hospital rests on a wing and a prayer

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A bellowing “hello” is what gets your attention the minute you step into the reception area of Night Owl Bird Hospital, on Vancouver’s west side. 

The greeting isn’t from a staff member. It’s from a brilliant blue and gold macaw named Amara. 

The 10-year-old parrot is one of dozens of resident birds at one of Canada’s only animal clinics devoted solely to the treatment of birds.

It houses dozens of birds, ranging from rescues and maimed birds found in the wild, to feathered pets like budgies and cockatoos. 

Some of these birds here have been visiting the hospital for “16-plus years,” said Dr. Anne McDonald who operates the clinic. 

But now the clinic is in jeopardy.

McDonald needs to hire more staff, but she can’t find qualified veterinarians to hire in Canada. And the federal government won’t give her the approval to bring in a bird specialist from overseas. 

Feds thwart overseas search 

Night Owl has twice attempted to recruit an Australian avian specialist but the hire wasn’t approved by Employment and Social Development Canada. A Canadian company wanting to hire a foreign worker must first prove that efforts have been made to find a qualified Canadian.

The process, called a Labour Market Impact Assessment, must be completed by the employer and approved by federal officials. 

Night Owl has twice been denied in its bid to hire a foreign bird specialist. McDonald said the application was rejected because the government said the hospital hadn’t looked hard enough to find a Canadian candidate. A spokesperson for Employment and Social Development Canada said the ministry doesn’t comment on individual cases.

“What is most frustrating is that we are just another number to whoever is doing our application,” said McDonald. “We are not a living, breathing organization. We are a number.”

In the meantime, the hospital’s client base continues to grow. Two years ago, it inherited hundreds more birds when a Vancouver Island parrot sanctuary closed unexpectedly.

Veterinarian Dr. Anne McDonald personally owns two African Grey parrots, including 12-year-old Molly, pictured. (Tamara Baluja/CBC)

The hospital has been actively looking for additional veterinarians to join the practice for the past five years. But two years ago, a nation-wide ad campaign resulted in just one response. 

McDonald said the facility needs another one or two veterinarians. 

The demanding workload has taken a toll on McDonald’s health. In the past two years, McDonald, 66, has been hospitalized twice for exhaustion. 

If McDonald can’t continue to work and no replacement vets are found, the hospital will have to close, said hospital manager Niki Montgomery.

Lifelong passion 

McDonald has loved birds since she was a child, and was only 15 years old when she got her first job in a vet’s clinic. From there she went on to study at the University of British Columbia, then onto a veterinarian school in Saskatchewan.

For years, she performed surgeries at the Vancouver Animal Emergency Clinic, and in 1990, she bought Night Owl Bird Hospital.

Last year, the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association honoured McDonald with its 2017 Humane Award. 

Demand is high 

The Night Owl hospital is small but the workload is huge. 

Staff at Night Owl Bird Hospital treat a roster of over 10,000 birds. (Tamara Baluja/CBC)

“We are crazy busy,” said Montgomery amid a cacophony of chirps and tweets from an array of birds. Clinic staff see an average of 45 birds a day, six days a week. 

McDonald said birds can suffer from an array of issues with their heart, liver, vascular and respiratory systems. 

“Birds get sick,” McDonald said. “Nobody realizes it — and, then they collapse.” 

The hospital provides everything from ultrasounds to laser therapy to surgery. 

Watch an exotic bird veterinarian in action:

Dr. Anne McDonald shows how she examines and treats birds at the Night Owl Bird Hospital in Vancouver. 3:52

Need more help  

The work is done by McDonald, an associate veterinarian and a rotation of 32 technicians. The hospital consistently needs more staff, and especially needs another avian-trained veterinarian. 

“There aren’t very many people who really want to work with birds or if they do want to work with birds, they’re usually afraid,” said McDonald. 

Night Owl Bird Hospital technician treats Teresa a geriatric macaw with laser therapy to alleviate pain and help her walk. (Tamara Baluja/CBC )

Range of clientele

It’s estimated the hospital has a roster of more than 10,000 birds who depend on it for their health needs. 

In June 2016, McDonald stepped up after more than 560 exotic birds unexpectedly became homeless when the World Parrot Refuge, in Coombs, B.C., on Vancouver Island was forced to close.

The refuge’s owner had died without leaving a plan in place to care for the birds. About 160 of those birds are still in care at Night Owl Bird Hospital. 

McDonald spent a lot of her own money rescuing and caring for the African greys, lovebirds, cockatoos, budgies and macaws from Vancouver Island. 

In 2016, when Dr. Nadine Meyer (left) was hired to work at Night Owl Bird Hospital she was the only Canadian applicant for the job. (Tamara Baluja/CBC)

Unhealthy situation 

But the workload has taken a toll. “She is consistently working 12-plus hours a day,” said Montgomery.

“It’s not something that is sustainable for anyone, let alone someone who should be looking to retire.” 

If the hospital closes, all 32 employees will be out of work. Montgomery said the hospital won’t make another application for a foreign employee. The process costs $1,000 for each attempt plus legal costs.

McDonald doesn’t want the hospital to close, but would love to scale back her hours.

“I’ve done it all these years,” she said. “It’s not something you can just walk away from.” 

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Top 5 Analytics Trends That Are Shaping The Future

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Digital transformation is increasingly becoming the focus for many CIOs around the world today—with analytics playing a fundamental role in driving the future of the digital economy.

While data is important to every business, it is necessary for businesses to have a firm grip on data analytics to allow them transform raw pieces of data into important insights. However, unlike the current trends in business intelligence—which is centred around data visualization—the future of data analytics would encompass a more contextual experience.

“The known data analytics development cycle is described in stages: from descriptive (what happened) to diagnostic (why did it happen), to discovery (what can we learn from it), to predictive (what is likely to happen), and, finally, to prescriptive analytics (what action is the best to take),” said Maurice op het Veld is a partner at KPMG Advisory in a report.

“Another way of looking at this is that data analytics initially “supported” the decision-making process but is now enabling “better” decisions than we can make on our own.”

Here are some of the current trends that arealready shaping the future of data analytics in individuals and businesses.

  1. Growth in mobile devices

With the number of mobile devices expanding to include watches, digital personal assistants, smartphones, smart glasses, in-car displays, to even video gaming systems, the final consumption plays a key role on the level of impact analytics can deliver.

Previously, most information consumers accessed were on a computer with sufficient room to view tables, charts and graphs filled with data, now, most consumers require information delivered in a format well optimized for whatever device they are currently viewing it on.

Therefore, the content must be personalized to fit the features of the user’s device and not just the user alone.

  1. Continuous Analytics

More and more businesses are relying on the Internet of Things (IoT) and their respective streaming data—which in turn shortens the time it takes to capture, analyze and react to the information gathered. Therefore, while analytics programspreviously were termed successful when results were delivered within days or weeks of processing, the future of analytics is bound to drastically reduce this benchmark to hours, minutes, seconds—and even milliseconds.

“All devices will be connected and exchange data within the “Internet of Things” and deliver enormous sets of data. Sensor data like location, weather, health, error messages, machine data, etc. will enable diagnostic and predictive analytics capabilities,” noted Maurice.

“We will be able to predict when machines will break down and plan maintenance repairs before it happens. Not only will this be cheaper, as you do not have to exchange supplies when it is not yet needed, but you can also increase uptime.”

  1. Augmented Data Preparation

During the process of data preparation, machine learning automation will begin to augment data profiling and data quality, enrichment, modelling, cataloguing and metadata development.

Newer techniques would include supervised, unsupervised and reinforcement learning which is bound to enhance the entire data preparation process. In contrast to previous processes—which depended on rule-based approach to data transformation—this current trend would involve advanced machine learning processes that would evolve based on recent data to become more precise at responding to changes in data.

  1. Augmented Data Discovery

Combined with the advancement in data preparation, a lot of these newer algorithms now allow information consumers to visualize and obtain relevant information within the data with more ease. Enhancements such as automatically revealing clusters, links, exceptions, correlation and predictions with pieces of data, eliminate the need for end users to build data models or write algorithms themselves.

This new form of augmented data discovery will lead to an increase in the number of citizen data scientist—which include information users who, with the aid of augmented assistance can now identify and respond to various patterns in data faster and a more distributed model.

  1. AugmentedData Science

It is important to note that the rise of citizen data scientist will not in any way eliminate the need for a data scientist who gathers and analyze data to discover profitable opportunities for the growth of a business. However, as these data scientists give room for citizen data scientists to perform the easier tasks, their overall analysis becomes more challenging and equally valuable to the business.

As time goes by, machine learning would be applied in other areas such as feature and model selection. This would free up some of the tasks performed by data scientist and allow them focus on the most important part of their job, which is to identify specific patterns in the data that can potentially transform business operations and ultimately increase revenue.

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Waterloo drone-maker Aeryon Labs bought by U.S. company for $265M

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Waterloo’s Aeryon Labs has been bought by Oregon-based FLIR Systems Inc. for $256 million, or $200 million US.

The acquisition was announced Monday. 

Dave Kroetsch, co-founder and chief technology officer of Aeryon Labs, says not much will change in the foreseeable future.

“The Waterloo operations of Aeryon Labs will actually continue as they did yesterday with manufacturing, engineering and all the functions staying intact in Waterloo and ultimately, we see growing,” he said.

“The business here is very valuable to FLIR and our ability to sell internationally is a key piece of keeping these components of the business here in Canada.”

Aeroyn Labs builds high-performance drones that are sold to a variety of customers including military, police services and commercial businesses. The drones can provide high-resolution images for surveillance and reconnaissance.

The drones already include cameras and thermal technology from FLIR. Jim Cannon, president and CEO of FLIR Systems, said acquiring Aeryon Labs is part of the company’s strategy to move beyond sensors “to the development of complete solutions that save lives and livelihoods.”

‘A piece of a bigger solution’

Kroetsch said this is a good way for the company to grow into something bigger.

“We see the business evolving in much the direction our business has been headed over the last couple of years. And that’s moving beyond the drone as a product in and of itself as a drone as a piece of a bigger solution,” he said.

For example, FLIR bought a drone company that builds smaller drones that look like little helicopters.

“We can imagine integrating those with our drones, perhaps having ours carry their drones and drop them off,” he said.

FLIR also does border security systems, which Kroetsch says could use the drones to allow border agents to look over a hill where there have been issues.

“We see the opportunity there as something that we never could have done on our own but being involved with and part of a larger company that’s already providing these solutions today gives us access not only to these great applications, but also to some fantastic technologies,” he said.

Aeryon Labs has done a lot of work during emergency disasters, including in Philippines after Typhoon Hagupit in 2014, Ecuador after an earthquake in 2016 and the Fort McMurray wildfire in 2016.

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Inuvik infrastructure may not be ready for climate change, says study

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The Arctic is expected to get warmer and wetter by the end of this century and new research says that could mean trouble for infrastructure in Inuvik.

The study from Global Water Futures looked at how climate change could impact Havipak Creek — which crosses the Dempster Highway in Inuvik, N.W.T. — and it predicts some major water changes.

“They were quite distressing,” John Pomeroy, director of Global Water Futures and the study’s lead author, said of the findings.

Researchers used a climate model and a hydrological model to predict future weather and climate patterns in the region. They also looked at data gathered from 1960 to the present. 

If greenhouse gas emissions continue at their current rate — which Pomeroy said they are on track to do — the study projects the region will be 6.1 C warmer by 2099 and precipitation, particularly rain, will increase by almost 40 per cent.

The study also found that the spring flood will be earlier and twice as large, and the permafrost will thaw an additional 25 centimetres. While the soil is expected to be wetter early in the summer, the study said it will be drier in late summer, meaning a higher risk of wildfires.

John Pomeroy is the director of Global Water Futures. (Erin Collins/CBC)

“The model’s painting kind of a different world than we’re living in right now for the Mackenzie Delta region,” Pomeroy said.

He noted these changes are not only expected for Havipak Creek, but also for “many, many creeks along the northern part of the Dempster [Highway].”

Pomeroy said the deeper permafrost thaw and a bigger spring flood could pose challenges for buildings, roads, culverts and crossings in the area that were designed with the 20th century climate in mind.

He said the projected growth of the snowpack and the spring flood are “of grave concern because that’s what washes out the Dempster [Highway] and damages infrastructure in the area.”

Culverts and bridges may have to be adjusted to allow room for greater stream flows, Pomeroy said. And building foundations that are dependent upon the ground staying frozen will have to be reinforced or redesigned.

Pomeroy said the ultimate solution is for humans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

“This study is the future we’re heading for, but it’s not the future we necessarily have if we can find a way to reduce those gases,” he said.  

“It’d be far smarter to get those emissions under control than to pay the terrible expenses for infrastructure and endangered safety of humans and destroyed ecosystems.”

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