Wildlife Rehabilitation in America
What is a wildlife rehabilitator?
A wildlife rehabilitator is a person licensed by their State to take in orphaned and injured wildlife for the general public, as required by the State. Orphaned baby animals will be raised properly and injured or ill critters are rehabilitated. Your main responsibility is to the animals you are caring for. The goal is to get these animals back into the wild where they are supposed to be, and want to be. That's what it is all about...the animals remaining wild. Wanting them to be pets is not what they want!
Working with wildlife is very different from working with domesticated pets. Where it's ok to hold an orphaned kitten or puppy to comfort it when it's missing it's mother, it's not ok to hold a cottontail rabbit for example, because it can die of fear in an instant.
Keeping handling and human exposure to a minimum is vital for the animals' survival in the wild later on.
How do you get the animals?
We receive calls from people like you who came across an animal that appeared to be in need of human intervention. We often receive animals from the local Animal Control Agencies, Game Wardens, Businesses, Police Departments, Sheriff Offices, Veterinary Clinics and Animal Shelters.
Why do animals end up with a wildlife rehabber and what kind?
Animals end up with a wildlife rehabilitator for various reasons. It can be a baby squirrel that fell out of a nest, usually after a storm, and found by school kids; a songbird that flew into a window and has a concussion and needs a safe place to recover; an opossum mother hit by a car with living babies in the pouch that caring individuals saved and brought to us; a baby raccoon sitting next to his dead mother on the side of the road crying; the litter of cottontail rabbits whose mother fell victim to a lawn mower or a wild animal hurt by our dogs and cats...the stories are endless.
What do you do with them?
In the case of infant critters where a re-union with the mother has been ruled out, they will be raised and taught how to relate to others of their species, given a chance to develop their survival skills, know what their predators are, and how to find food and shelter before they will be released back into the wild.
What about injured animals? Do you have medical training?
Even though wildlife rehabilitators have to go through training and study as much as possible, they are not veterinarians and have to seek professional medical assistance in case of an injured animal, such as an owl with a broken wing or a deer hit by a car with a leg fracture; a raccoon caught by a dog covered in bite wounds; a squirrel with bb gun pellets in its back...again, the stories are endless.
Unfortunately not every vet clinic is willing or capable of assisting wildlife rehabilitators with these animals for various reasons.
If the injuries are too severe, the only option left is to euthanize the animal to shorten their suffering.
What else does a wildlife rehabber do besides caring for wildlife?
Another important part of being a wildlife rehabilitator is dealing with the public. Once spring starts and the first animals of the season, usually squirrels, are being born, the calls are coming in about pink hairless babies found on the ground. There are a lot of caring folks out there that go the extra mile to help out that infant and take it to a licensed wildlife rehabilitator or wildlife facility.
A lot of people attempt to care for these animals on their own and only call us when they see that their approach didn't work. Sadly, at that point it is often too late for us to help.
Many folks proudly explain all the things they have done wrong, believing they did everything right, which doesn't make it necessarily easy to educate them without coming across as criticizing. Busting old wife's tales takes a lot of our time, that is why I am here now.
We often get calls from rude people that are trying to threaten or ridicule us, seem to enjoy grossing us out with the gory details of their hunting stories, or tell us they will kill the animal if we don't come right now and pick it up. Fact is that most of us home based rehabilitators can't just rush out and drive around to pick up animals.
Who will take care of the critters we already have? The focus has to be on the animals already there. We are happy to take in critters, but we are so grateful when people can bring them to us. We simply don't have the resources to do everything they expect us to do, but the majority of people that call want to help and don't mind the transporting the critter.
Can I make a lot of money being a wildlife rehabilitator?
Most wildlife rehabilitators these days are home based. We can't charge for anything we do because these are State owned animals, so we survive strictly on donations. If you are in this for the money you will be disappointed.
It's a life style, a passion and a commitment, and most rehabilitators front the bills out of their own pockets and don't get paid anything. Some things just can't be weighed in money...but knowing at the end of the day that you are doing the right thing is more rewarding than a fancy car to most of us.
Wildlife Rehabilitation used to be more of a hobby than a profession back in the days, but times and laws have progressed. The government requires us to be trained in order to obtain the necessary permits, provide proper facilities which are subject to inspection in most states, provide release sites, even pay for our own pre-exposure rabies shots.
Fortunately, more national and international organizations are working on research and studies benefiting our local wildlife, and offer rehabilitators extended training courses.
Some rehabilitators establish a wildlife center in their area, usually a nonprofit based organization because the government does not financially support wildlife rehabilitation. Yet. That's why there are not many independent wildlife facilities in America, most are connected to colleges or vet clinics, so paid jobs in this field are still hard to find.
How do I get a wildlife rehabilitation permit?
There are permits you have to obtain from your State for mammal rehabilitation. If you also want to rehabilitate birds, you will need a federal permit from the US Fish and Wildlife in addition to the State permit. That's for nearly all types of birds from songbirds to birds of prey.
Different agencies are responsible for issuing wildlife rehabilitation permits and requirements also vary from state to state. In some states the department of natural resources is in charge of wildlife rehab permits, in other states it's the parks and wildlife department or fish and wildlife commission. You will find direct links to each State's application on our website at www.wildlife-education.com .
In almost all states it is illegal to take an animal out of the wild and attempt to treat it on your own, no matter what your motives are. Even if you plan to release it later on back into the wild, it's most likely not going to happen if you don't know what you are doing.
Can everybody become a wildlife rehabilitator?
As a wildlife rehabber you have to be a very strong and determined person. There is a lot of frustration involved when dealing with the public and administrative side of this vocation. It's about hard work, long hours, no weekends or holidays and never enough money, and also a lot of emotional and heartbreaking cases where you have done everything you can but still can't save an animal.
All we can do then is to provide a warm, safe place for an animal to die. However, being able to work with wild animals that most people don't even get to see up close, to touch them safely, heal them, and see them be free again…that is a privilege to most rehabbers. Knowing they made a difference and got this animal back to where it belongs is worth all the efforts, expense, and even the heartaches.
How much does it cost?
In addition to the required permits you will need a lot of items ranging from inside cages and incubators to outside enclosures and habitats. You'll be using medical supplies, syringes, nipples, wound care supplies, bottles, feed, blankets, towels, educational material, different formulas for different species, bedding, building supplies, volunteers, fundraising skills, time for education, and not to forget your own family and social life. In other words, a LOT!
It really helps if you are good with basic business skills so you can be professional in what you do with the public, organize fundraising events and such.
Some folks find the idea of wildlife rehabilitation ridiculous or claim it's "messing with nature". These folks neglect to see that most wildlife related calls that require our human intervention ARE the direct result of unnatural conditions such as careless behavior of people, toxins, poisons, automobiles, guns, traps, lawn mowers, to name just a few.
Often we are confronted with animals that have suffered traumatic wounds and horrific injuries. Some animals come in poisoned, shot, injured by cars and left for dead by humans. The stories and cases are endless and heartbreaking. THAT is called “messing with nature” and careless humans do it everyday, whether we mean to do harm or not.
We, as wildlife rehabilitators, are dedicated warriors on the front lines between suburban development and natural habitat and are grateful for every bit of support we can get. Thank you!