Spring is the time of year when many young animals are born or hatched. It is also a time of year when adult animals are much more active and prone to accidents or injuries. This creates a remarkable and swift increase in the number of animals being cared for by wildlife rehabilitators.
Wildlife rehabilitators are focused on and committed to the treatment and subsequent release of orphaned, kidnapped or injured native wildlife. Though the profession is young by comparison to other animal related vocations, it is one that has evolved to include a global exchange of specialized data and standards of care.
In 1982, The National Wildlife Rehabilitators Association (NWRA) was formed when 262 people from 22 states gathered for the very first National Wildlife Rehabilitation Symposium. Wildlife rehabilitators came together in Naperville, Illinois, hosted by the staff of Willowbrook Wildlife Haven, out of a desire to form a national organization and establish national standards for the care of wild animals.
Are you wondering why there would be a need for national organizations and global standards in caring for injured and orphaned native wildlife? Consider this: In 2007 alone, approximately 64,000 birds, 39,000 mammals, and 2,300 reptiles and amphibians were treated by 343 NWRA survey respondents. The overall rate of release back to the wild was 60% for birds, 72% for mammals, and 69% for reptiles and amphibians. Also, 252,000 wildlife-related telephone calls were handled, and over half of the survey respondents provided wildlife education programs to the public, reaching an estimated 839,000 people.
In 1984 the NWRA had a membership of 221 people; by 2009, the membership reached almost 1,800 people from all over the world.
According to a recent NWRA membership survey, 30% of the members are veterinarians, vet students, or veterinary technicians. Other members are affiliated with humane societies or zoos, or are educators, biologists or merely concerned citizens of the world who volunteer their time and resources to the care of wildlife.
This sort of work is not for the faint of heart. More than 75% of the animals cared for by NWRA members are adversely affected by human activities such as nest tree destruction, vehicle collisions, unrestrained pets, illegal or legal wild “pet” trading, intentional or unintentional poisonings through events such as contamination, window collisions, and non-target trapping or shooting.
In wildlife rehabilitation, on a daily basis, healthy juvenile animals are brought in as “orphaned” during the spring and summer. They are quickly labeled as “kidnapped” because a human made the false assumption that the animal was alone merely because they didn’t see an adult animal. Most animals do not tend to their young constantly the way humans do. If you do not see an adult animal, it is likely either out gathering food or hiding and waiting for the scary human to go away. Don’t be a kidnapper.
The best thing you can do when you see animals, including baby animals that are not obviously sick, injured or abandoned is to leave them alone. And make sure your children and pets leave them alone as well.
It is okay to watch the animal from afar, far enough away that the parents will feel comfortable tending to their babies, if appropriate. Think of it as when you were taught to ride a bicycle for the first time. Eventually you peddled away from the grown up that was teaching you, but they were still watching. Imagine the horror the adult would have experienced if a big monster came and snatched you away, just because they thought you were unsupervised.
For guidelines on how to determine if an animal needs human intervention, visit The National Wildlife Rehabilitator’s Association. There are excellent guidelines for determining if baby mammals and baby birds need rescuing. There is also helpful information for finding wildlife rehabilitators in your area.