By Pam Condos
Wildlife Rehabilitation is the process of providing aid to injured, orphaned, or distressed wildlife in order that they may survive when released back into their natural habitat. Only licensed facilities and individuals are permitted to rehabilitate wildlife. It is illegal for any member of the public to keep native wildlife in captivity for care or for their own interest without proper permitting.
The goal of rehabilitation is to return healthy wildlife back to the wild as soon as possible. Wildlife cases are mostly acute. Wildlife stays in the wild unless something severe happens that they cannot resolve on their own, thus allowing capture by humans. Unfortunately, young and healthy wildlife are frequently “kidnapped” by the well-meaning but uninformed public. Domesticated species such as cats, dogs, and other animals intended as pets life their lives in long-term dependent (human) situations. This is not the case for wildlife, wild animals are not dependent on humans for their survival. Humans are considered predators.
There are some distinct differences between the care provided by humans to domestic animals (pets) and care provided to wildlife. It is important to acknowledge and understand these differences.
- Anatomy and Physiology – Many different species of wildlife come in for care. It is critical to know the differences in their anatomy and physiology in order to notice and assess problems.
- Limited knowledge of Species – There is much we do not know about wildlife species because they are not always available for observation.
- Captivity and Handling increases stress – Wildlife lives freely and independently of human interference. Domesticated animals or captive wildlife are dependent on humans. Most wildlife species are afraid of humans, who are considered dangerous predators. This makes non-captive wildlife much more difficult to work with than other species. There is more than often not, no long term monitoring or treatment. We want them released as soon as possible.
- Acute versus Chronic conditions – Rehabilitators see more serious and acute than chronic conditions, especially in adults. A majority of animals arriving for rehabilitation are young, some have lost their parents. Other animals brought in were harmed by humans or other animals. Think shock, concussions, abscesses, infections, fractures. Chronic conditions generally become part of the food chain.
- Symptoms are displayed differently – Unlike domestic animals, wildlife critters do not have the benefit of an owner representing them to describe symptoms to a vet. Wild animals tend to hide their symptoms or show them differently. Additionally, wild animals are not comforted by cuddling and handling.
- No artificial diets, medications, or vaccines – An extremely small number of wild animals have ever been vaccinated or medicated. This also suggest that some medical treatments and interventions that might be considered for domestic animals are not considered for wild animals. Most wild animals are considered very “clean”, however do succumb to human distributed pesticides and other poisonings.
- Diseases and Parasites – Wild animals may have diseases/parasites. Some are natural to the species, but it is critical for anyone providing care to be familiar with these conditions and take appropriate precautions.
- Regulatory Considerations – Possession of native wild animals is regulated by various government agencies.
- Independent survivability – Wild animals should be released preferably in the minimum amount of time and be able to survive in the wild. Not only can it be very stressful for wild animals to be kept indefinitely in captivity, it could violate state and federal regulations. Healthy wild animals need to be released back to their homes.