Lelia Ketola (1925 - 2017)

The God-Mother of North America's Eurasian Eagle Owls

Founder: Lelia Ketola

Lelia Ketola, founder of The Centre for the Conservation of Specialized Species, with one of the Snowy Owls bred at the Centre in 2002.

Lelia Ketola was born in Williamsport, Pennsylvania on April 1, 1925.

The first ten years of her life was spent in New York City and it was with great relief and happiness that the family moved out to Long Island. The property consisted of a small amount of land and it was possible to indulge in the animals which the family did as a whole. She was raised on New York's Long Island with 2 sisters, and 3 brothers. Later moving in her twenties to Toronto, Canada. It was here, while attending the University of Toronto that she met her husband, Jarl Ketola.

In 1957 they were married, and they moved to Johannesburg South Africa, where her interest in animals received its first real inspiration.

"I remember many visits with my husband to South Africa's Kruger National Park, where my husband and I filmed giraffes, antelope, elephants, primates, rhinos, and wildebeest for long hours on end. It was an extremely beautiful country, with an abundance of wildlife, and although most of my time was spent raising my family, I longed to somehow become involved with wildlife personally, It was at this time that I set my heart on doing so in the future."

When growing up in New York City, as a small child, Lelia wanted to become a veterinarian. She spent many hours rounding up the local stray cats, and setting up a pretend practice in a small abandoned apartment. She gathered wooden orange crates for cages from the local grocer, and fed all these stray cats by daily gathering scraps of meat at all the local butcher shops until her mother put a stop to it.

" I never quite dreamed that many years later, I would be doing what I am doing now. I feel that in many ways, what the Center is all about is not only more directly what I always wanted, but it will in the long run make a much larger contribution to Conservation than I ever thought possible. I am quite excited about this.”

In 1966, shortly after giving birth to a set of identical twin boys, Lelia's husband Jarl was transferred back to Canada by the company he worked for. It was here that they lived, north of Toronto in the region known as Unionville.

"I was quite sad to leave Africa behind" recalls Lelia. "But my family had to come first. Luckily, both of my sons inherited my love for nature and wildlife, and so luckily, becoming involved with endangered species was soon to play a major role in my life."

Before long the home was a haven full of pets and animals, and everything from rodents to reptiles, and even venomous snakes found their way to the house on a ravine north of Toronto. "Doing what I am now, propagating endangered wildlife for reintroduction to the wild is to me a dream come true. I have often heard people say to me; “Well, what use is it?”, when referring to an animal, and this deeply troubles me. The truth of the matter is that mankind cannot afford to overlook any species. We do not yet know the full potential scientific and medical value of any of the species in the world, so for man’s sake alone we cannot afford to take any chances."

Every species on earth fulfills an indispensable role in our planet's ecosystem, and each one is related to every other like dominos. One cannot removed and expect all the others to be unaffected, including man.

Once a species is routinely captive bred, it is no longer possible for it to become extinct. Hence, captive breeding projects function as conservation's insurance policy by drastically reducing pressure on wild populations. This includes the continued existence of any species utilized in such projects even if their habitat is destroyed.

Any knowledge gained in the captive propagation of a species can often be applied with minimal modification to any related species. Captive breeding increases the wealth of knowledge available to dedicated professionals in this crucial field.

What is required is the maintenance and propagation of large enough numbers of a diverse variety of species to maintain and re-enrich our world's essential genetic bio-diversity.

-Lelia Ketola.

(From an interview)


If you have found an injured bird of prey (hawk, falcon, owl, etc.), contact the Centre and our experienced staff can assist in determining what steps should be taken to ensure the bird receives the best possible care.



Telephone : +1 343 341 2730

Email : staff@conservationcentre.org