In my personal experience, I often encounter folks who tend to doubt or nay-say the work wildlife rehabilitators do, while others simply do not understand the different aspects of the job. While I do understand a lot of these hesitations, it seems to me more often than not that some of these concerns could be assuaged through one of the many aspects of our work – education! Through this article, I hope to ease some of those concerns and give further information on the many benefits and impacts of wildlife rehabilitation.
Often the main concern I hear voiced surrounds unnecessary human involvement. Should we just always ‘let nature take its course’? However – anthropogenic causes tend to be the most widely occurring reason for patient admittance to wildlife rehabilitation centers worldwide . Due to unnecessary human involvement, each nursery season we see droves of healthy baby animals abducted from functional families, leaving them orphans, often by well-meaning citizens. Our glass windows kill up to 1 billion birds a year just in the United States alone, with family homes being the biggest culprit . Other major culprits include but are not limited to lead ammunition and fishing tackle, pollution in many forms, and climate change . As intelligent creatures capable of self-awareness and the ability to show compassion, we need to understand that it is mainly the result of our unnecessary involvement that wildlife comes to harm. Responsible wildlife rehabilitators do not intervene in instances such as natural predator-prey interactions. I would never attempt to rescue a rabbit from an eagle, and most of us would never even have the chance to witness or intervene in such an event. We can control our own actions and behavior and choose how we deal with ensuing ramifications.
That being said, keeping the ‘wild’ in wildlife is exceptionally important. They are not our pets, and any attempt to forcibly make them so is cruel. We make extra effort to handle patients as little as possible, minimize stress at all times, provide as natural of a setting and enclosure as possible, and ensure the animal has all the skills they need to make a successful rehabilitation and survive on their own. We also must make the hard judgement calls on whether or not to humanely euthanize the animal due to failed rehabilitation, excessive injuries, or any other situation in which the animal’s quality of life is deemed to be severely diminished/nonexistent. I personally believe that each animal has the right to euthanasia in those instances. Some exceptions can include endangered or at risk species, especially when education or captive breeding is necessary to ensure the entire species’ continuing survival. Each judgment call should be made on an individual basis, with careful consideration to the animal’s health and quality of life, as well as its ability to successfully contribute to conservation efforts.
Wildlife rehabilitators participate in research on a daily basis, both in their personal and professional lives. At the Wildlife Rehabilitation Center of Minnesota, we treat over 185 different species each year.  As you can imagine, that involves a lot of research. For each different species, hours of time and effort go into topics including: medical treatment, proper diet, enrichment opportunities, enclosure/cage management, social needs, animal behavior, and release criteria – even down to weather, time of day, and location. In the event of an unsuccessful rehabilitation, autopsies are often performed to better understand exact cause of death and what we can do to prevent that in the future.
We are constantly learning every day and rework our treatment plans with the data we acquire in order to increase our success rates. Wildlife rehabilitators often work in conjunction with universities, government agencies, zoos and other organizations on topics such as disease and parasite load, population distribution, migration patterns, success rates of new or novel treatments, animal behavior, and post-release monitoring. Examples of these types of research can be found many places, including the Journal of Wildlife Rehabilitation: https://theiwrc.org/
Wildlife rehabilitators work tirelessly to educate the public on a myriad of topics including natural history, human-wildlife conflict, animal biology, and disease outbreaks. One example of this education has been surrounding the prevalence of wild canine distemper and potential impacts on our domestic animals. We also educate the public on when it is best to intervene with wildlife – if those animals actually need care or if they should indeed be left alone. In cases where intervention is necessary, we provide information on the safe handling and transport of those animals to their nearest licensed wildlife rehabilitator. This education prevents unnecessary human interaction and promotes public health and safety .
It is my hope that the education and work wildlife rehabilitators do will instill a sense of joy, wonder and respect for the natural world as well as bring out the public’s inner conservationist – not only ensuring a high quality of life for other species, but giving our children and grandchildren the chance to grow up in a world where biodiversity is prevalent, clean water, air, and land are a universal, and anthropocentrism ceases to exist. For more information or how you can get involved, please contact your nearest licensed wildlife rehabilitator