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Wildlife Rehabilitation...It's Nobody's "Job"

11 Oct. 2016 Posted by Center Director in News from the Center

WANTED:  dedicated, wildlife-loving individual to care for injured or orphaned wildlife.  Must be willing to work very odd hours and be available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.  Experience not necessary; but training (both initial and ongoing), state and federal licensing, and all necessary caging and supplies must be acquired at your own expense.  Salary; none.  Vacation; are you kidding?  Benefits; many, assuming you are passionate about helping animals and paying for it all out of your own pocket.

So, are you ready to sign up?  Sad fact is that this is the reality of life in the wildlife rehabilitation world.  Many people wrongly assume that it must be someone’s “job” to care for wildlife in need.  After all, if you get sick, you go to a doctor who is paid to help you get well.  If your pet gets sick, you take them to a veterinarian who is paid to help Fluffy or Rover get better.  However, when it comes to wildlife, it really isn’t anyone’s job or responsibility to care for animals who are injured, displaced, or orphaned.  We often get asked the following:  “aren’t you really just interfering with the natural order of things by attempting to rehabilitate wild animals or birds”?  In actuality, national statistics indicate that 80-90% of all animals coming in to wildlife rehabilitators or rehabilitation centers are needing assistance as a direct result of some type of human interaction or activities (such as vehicular strikes; nest tree destruction; habitat destruction; dog or cat attacks on wildlife; wildlife “pet” trade; poisoning; oil contamination; window collisions; trapping; and shooting).  With continued urban sprawl and development, and as wildlife continues to be pushed out of native areas, the need for assistance will no doubt continue to grow.

While the need for more wildlife rehabilitators continues to increase, the numbers of permitted rehabilitators in many states are dwindling as out-of-pocket expenses and burn out take their toll.  Many rehabilitators and rehabilitation centers are just maxed out on how many animals they can financially and physically care for.  Some are unfortunately forced to either limit the numbers of certain animals they can admit, or worse yet may have to close for a period of time when they cannot take in any more animals for care.

The goal of wildlife rehabilitation is to care for injured, orphaned, or displaced wildlife and to then return healthy animals to the wild.  Wildlife rehabilitators are involved in all areas of care, from intake, to triage and treatment of wounds when necessary, daily care, feeding, and medicating, acclimating animals to prepare for release, and eventual release back into the wild.  Many rehabilitators and rehabilitation centers are also very involved with educating the general public, both by providing educational programs or simply by helping people to better understand natural behavior of wildlife.  They help inform people when it comes to human-wildlife conflict, how to better coexist with native animals, and when intervention may not be necessary.  All of these actions are performed by unpaid volunteers.

So what about game wardens?  While they may assist the general public at times with wildlife issues, they are generally law enforcement agents of the state and federal fish and wildlife agencies who are charged with enforcing laws and regulations designed to protect and conserve fish and wildlife, meaning they enforce hunting and fishing laws.  In instances where they might encounter or assist with injured or orphaned wildlife, they have no training or facilities to care for these animals, and they in turn will need to depend on volunteer wildlife rehabilitation groups or individuals to take the animals in for medical treatment and continued care. 

Many people wonder why they can’t just care for animals or birds they might find.  The truth is that almost all animals and birds are protected and are considered the “property” of the state (or in the case of migratory animals, the federal government).  For this reason, it is illegal for members of the general public to possess any wildlife or to attempt to care for them beyond whatever time it might take for that individual to get help from a licensed rehabilitator.  Also, since wildlife is considered state or federal property, it is illegal for any wildlife rehabilitator to charge anything for their services to care for these animals.  Unfortunately, there is NO government funding of any type for wildlife rehabilitation.

Many wildlife rehabilitators are home-based individuals.  Because they cannot charge anything for their services, they survive strictly on donations.  Some rehabilitators join together to establish small wildlife centers in their area (like Friends of Texas Wildlife), usually a non-profit organization.  These smaller, independent centers exist through donations and fundraising to help offset some of the expenses of caring for animals, although the individual rehabilitators still pay much of the expenses for care out of their own pockets.  There are not many large wildlife facilities in America due to the massive financial considerations; the few large facilities that do exist are lucky enough to be affiliated with large universities or veterinary schools.  Only the very largest and well-funded facilities are lucky enough to have veterinarians on staff; the other groups or individual rehabilitators have to depend on private veterinarians for assistance when needed.  However with ongoing training and classes, most wildlife rehabilitators handle the bulk of all medical requirements on their own (the exceptions being surgery, x-rays, and other major medical situations).  The expenses involved in rehabilitating wildlife can be quite extensive when you consider that many animals require months of care; these expenses include species-specific formulas for nursing baby animals; any medications or vaccinations required for animals; ongoing feeding until release; all caging or housing for animals; any veterinary services required.  For rehabilitators who care for fawns, raptors, or larger mammals, the caging and housing requirements are quite extensive and can cost in the thousands of dollars to construct and maintain.  Even smaller mammals, such as raccoons, foxes, opossums, and skunks require very specific pre-release caging.  Depending on the different species cared for and the numbers of animals admitted, the costs can be quite daunting.  However, seeing recovered animals being released back into the wild makes it all worthwhile, and wildlife rehabilitators gladly give their time and resources to make it happen.

So, if you are passionate about wildlife, or even just enjoy watching your local birds and furry critters, please consider supporting your local wildlife rehabilitation group.  If you happen to find an animal needing assistance, please be patient with the harried and often exhausted person on the other end of the phone trying to best assist you, and thoughtfully consider providing some financial assistance to help care for the animal(s) you bring them.  Consider volunteering if you can.  Even if you cannot help care for animals you may be able to assist with answering phones, fundraising activities, or a supply drive.  We can all help to do our part to give wildlife a second chance!