So, you think you want to be a wildlife rehabilitator?
We often are asked about the process of becoming a wildlife rehabilitator, so here is some helpful information if you are considering it:
What is a wildlife rehabilitator? A wildlife rehabilitator is licensed by State and/or Federal agencies to take in orphaned, displaced, or injured wildlife from the general public. Animals are kept in care until such time that they can be released back into the wild. People have doctors and hospitals; domestic pets and zoo animals have veterinarians and animal clinics; when wildlife are sick, injured, or orphaned, the only people who stand ready to help are wildlife rehabilitators.
Are wildlife rehabilitators also veterinarians? Although licensed rehabilitators go through a great deal of training, most are not veterinarians. In the case of severe injuries (broken bones, injuries requiring surgery, etc.), rehabilitators need to seek the assistance of a licensed veterinarian. Not all veterinarians are willing to assist with wildlife animals, so you will need to establish a relationship with one who will help when needed.
What do you do with the animals you receive? The goal with all wildlife is to rehabilitate them while at the same time “keeping them wild” so they can eventually be released. Animals being rehabilitated must never be considered as pets and must not be allowed to imprint on people or domestic animals. Orphaned babies should be raised in pairs or groups to prevent imprinting. Injured animals are triaged, treated, and then provided with supportive care while they heal. Animals that have severe, life-threatening injuries, or with injuries that would render them non-releasable, must be euthanized to end their suffering. The goal with all animals is to keep them only as long as is necessary and then return them to the wild.
Can non-releasable animals be kept as pets? NO. This is prohibited by law. Having a wildlife rehabilitation permit does not make it legal to keep wild animals as pets. In certain cases, non-releasable animals may be kept as surrogates or educational animals, but separate permits are required on a case-by-case basis.
How do you get the animals you care for? Once you have the applicable permits, many states will list you on their Parks & Wildlife sites as a rehabilitator, and the general public can find you this way. Also, we receive animals from local veterinary clinics, animal control, local businesses, game wardens, animal shelters, police and sheriff’s departments.
Why rehabilitate wild animals? Aren’t you interfering with nature? The short answer in most cases is NO. The majority of the animals (80-90%) we assist are in need because of human interference of some type. Vehicular collisions, tree removal, loss of habitat, dog and cat attacks, lawn mower or tractor accidents, poisoning, and gunshots are just a few of the ways animals fall victim. There are also animals that need assistance after storms, heavy rains, etc., but these do not account for most of our calls.
What else do you do besides care for wildlife? A big part of what a rehabilitator does is educating the public. Many times people will call you about animals that they think need help but they really don’t (such as fledgling birds found on the ground or baby fawns that people think are abandoned). You need help people understand what natural behavior is, and when animals do need their assistance versus when they do not. Another important thing we do is to intervene when people who are not trained want to keep orphaned or injured animals and care for them on their own. You will need to be kind, but firm, and let these well-meaning people know that not only is it illegal for them to do so, but more often than not the animals will pay the price for their inexperience. Most people want to do the right thing once they understand what the right thing is! Sometimes people can be rude, or downright nasty, when they are told something they don’t want to hear; try to do the best you can to counsel them, but if needed you can always ask the assistance of local game wardens.
So, do you make a lot of money as a wildlife rehabilitator? OK, now that we’ve stopped laughing…again, the answer is NO. It is not legal to charge anything for your services, so we can only survive on donations and fundraising. Even with donations, there will be many expenses you will personally incur, including (but not limited to) veterinary expenses, medications, species-specific formula(s), caging, medical supplies, feeding syringes and nipples, blankets, towels, ongoing training, etc., etc., etc. Most rehabilitators are independent and home-based. If you are lucky, there may be a wildlife center in your area (usually a non-profit organization). Even these centers are not supported by local, state, or federal governments and they have to depend on fundraising and donations. If you are very lucky, there may be a nearby wildlife facility that is connected to a college or veterinary clinic that may be subsidized.
How do I obtain training? Your best bet is to contact a local wildlife rehabilitator or wildlife center and ask about training. If you are near us in Montgomery County, Texas, sign up to volunteer on our website at www.ftwl.org. Additionally, the following links can assist you in obtaining some necessary training:
http://www.nwrawildlife.org (their yearly symposium is great!)
How do I go about getting the appropriate permits: For mammals, you will need to contact the appropriate state agency (in Texas, go to http://www.tpwd.state.tx.us); if you want to rehabilitate any kind of birds, that falls under a federal permit (http://www.fws.gov/permits).
So, is it worth it to become a wildlife rehabilitator? YES! If you have a passion for helping animals, it is very rewarding. Many days you may feel exhausted, unappreciated, and overwhelmed, but when you look into the eyes of the animals you help, and have those wonderful releases and watch them go back into the wild where they belong, you will know that what you do has value and importance.