What wildlife rehabilitators do

Wildlife rehabilitation is a difficult but rewarding business. Although many people know that there are wildlife rehabilitators out there it is often a misunderstood job. Some of the most common misconceptions are that wildlife centers will keep or euthanize all the animals that come to them, neither of these are complete truths, and although animals that are in need of rescue are often injured beyond help the ultimate goal of any licensed rehabilitation center is exactly what it states: to rehabilitate the animal and release them back into the wild. Extensive injuries often lead rehabilitators to euthanize animals to prevent further suffering, and occasionally an animal will be injured too badly to be released, but not badly enough to warrant euthanasia, these animals are sometimes kept on as education animals and serve a purpose to the rehabilitators in helping them educate the community on wildlife.

One thing I often hear is “wildlife rehabilitation sounds like such an awesome job! How can I get involved?” which is very true! It can be a fun and rewarding experience with the ability to get an up close look at animals you might never see in the wild. Raising baby animals and watching them go back to the wild can be an amazing bittersweet experience, and successful rehabilitation of an injured animal is always the most rewarding experience. However there are many down sides to the job, firstly you do not get to hold and cuddle all the cute animals, they are wild and meant to stay that way, animals can be scared and vicious and difficult to handle, animals of all kinds are messy!... extremely messy… most of the job is cleaning enclosures and prepping food, which also can be difficult depending on what species you are working with. Bats for instance eat live mealworms, often you have to decapitate the worms and squeeze out their innards for bats who refuse to eat, birds of prey eat mice, rats, and quail, and larger animals eat raw meats, food prep can be one of the grossest parts of wildlife care. It can also be a heavy financial burden, the majority of wildlife rehabilitators are self-funded and rely on donations, grants and their own wallet for supplies. It’s not a cheap business and the return is little to none monetarily.

 The absolute worst thing about wildlife rehabilitation to be sure is losing a patient you have invested so much time and emotion in. Sometimes you will spend so much time and effort on an individual in the hopes of saving them only to lose them, this can be heartbreaking as many rehabilitators put their heart into their work and love the animals they work with. Rehabilitators occasionally need to take time off from their work due to what is known as compassion fatigue, this is when you have put so much emotion, time, money and effort into your work that you wear yourself out. The ups and downs of rehabilitation are wild and unpredictable and can be exhausting.

Taking these drawbacks into consideration is extremely important if wildlife rehabilitation is something that is on your radar, you also will likely deal with some extreme wounds on injured animals and that visceral sight can be difficult to handle calmly. .

All said however, wildlife rehabilitation is one of the most personally rewarding jobs I have ever had. Being able to care for and save animals in need that would otherwise be out of luck, releasing animals who would never have survived on their own back into their natural home, and feeling the joy of helping another living creature is something you can’t find in any other job.

Wildlife care is a difficult and often unappreciated work, if you want to help a rehabilitation facility there are several ways you can do that:  donate (time, money or items), volunteer even if you don’t want to work with the animals there is always work that is needed, and show your support! Community outreach is a huge part of wildlife work and you can support rehabilitation centers by helping spread information and knowledge about what they do and what people can do to help!

How to help found/injured wildlife

This is a hot topic for which you will find many answers; the best answer is firstly DO NOT handle wildlife injured or otherwise. If you happen upon an injured or lethargic wild animal the best thing you can do is keep distance and keep watch, contact a wildlife specialist as soon as possible. A wildlife specialist can evaluate the situation and explain to you if and how you should proceed with the animal.

Once you have contacted a specialist you may be asked to proceed in one of a few ways:

 If the animal is small and determined to be non-dangerous you may be instructed to use a towel, blanket or gloves and gently move the animal into a safe, warm, dark contained location such as a box or carrier. Keep the animal in a warm dark location until a professional can retrieve it or until it can be taken to one. Never try to feed the animal as you can do more damage in many situations, you may be advised to provide a shallow water dish, generally something with water levels less than half the depth of the animals snout top to bottom is advised so they cannot drown themselves. Get the animal into wildlife care as soon as possible, the sooner they get care the higher the chance of successful recovery.

If the animal is determined to be dangerous you may be instructed to monitor the animal from a distance until a professional can be disbursed to your location.

If determined to be dangerous but safe enough they may ask you to contain the animal by placing something over top of it such as a box or empty garbage bin. In these last two cases you will likely be instructed not to attempt to give food or water as the specialists will be arriving to retrieve the animal sooner rather than later.

In all cases seeking the advice of a trained, licensed and well equipped specialist is advised. Wild animals are unpredictable especially when injured and scared. Do not risk injuries to yourself or the animal by taking matters into your own hands.