Have you found a sick, injured, or orphaned wild animal? You may be wondering whether you can care for the animal yourself. Caring for wildlife requires specialized knowledge. And keeping wildlife, even temporarily while providing care, requires authorization from your state and/or federal wildlife agencies. If a wild animal needs medical help, finding a wildlife rehabilitator is the right thing to do. This Q&A answers common questions about wildlife rescue and rehabilitation, offers tips for assessing when a wild animal definitely needs medical care, and explains how to find a local wildlife rehabilitator.
What is a wildlife rehabilitator?
Wildlife rehabilitators are professionally trained and licensed people who provide first aid, specialized feedings, physical therapy, and other necessary care for sick, injured, and orphaned wild animals. Their goal is to return the animals to the wild whenever possible; however, not all patients will survive their illness or injury, and some may survive, but not be well enough to be independent in the wild again. In the latter case, some animals may become residents in nature centers or other educational facilities.
Depending upon the nature of an illness or injury, wildlife rehabilitators may also involve veterinarians. Wildlife rehabilitation requires extensive knowledge about each species’ natural history, food requirements, behavior, and other considerations. Many wildlife rehabilitators specialize in caring for particular species or groups of animals—birds, for example, or small mammals—which enables them to refine their expertise in meeting those species’ needs. Wildlife rehabilitators also obtain specific vaccinations to protect themselves against potential hazards of handling wildlife.
Why do we need wildlife rehabilitators?
Encounters with pets and collisions with vehicles are often the cause of wildlife injuries. Among other hazards, animals may become ill from lawn or garden chemicals, or they may be orphaned by a domestic cat killing their mother. More frequently, people tend to trap “nuisance” animals in the spring, only to find that the raccoon in the attic was a mother with young cubs, or the skunk trapped from under the deck had 5 little ones left behind. (This is why we strongly urge people to not trap any wildlife in and around dwellings in spring and summer, but to evict them in a way that allows mom to take her young along instead). Most people who find an animal in distress want to help, but without specific training, they cannot properly care for wildlife. Such care can also be extremely time-consuming and requires cages and other equipment that most people do not have. Veterinarians can sometimes help a wild animal in distress, but many are not willing to provide care for wildlife. Wildlife rehabilitators are the frontline of care for wild animals in need.
Where do they work?
Most wildlife rehabilitators care for animals in their home or in another dwelling on their property. Some rehabilitators have larger facilities and an actual a wildlife rehabilitation clinic with paid staff and volunteers.
Where do they get the funds to provide care for wildlife?
Wildlife rehabilitators either raise donations from the public or use their own personal money to purchase whatever is needed to help their wildlife patients. This is why if you bring an animal to a wildlife rehabilitator for care, please do make a donation towards the animal’s care, as it will be greatly appreciated and help to ensure that the rehabilitator can continue doing their Good Samaritan deeds. The reason that there aren’t nearly enough rehabilitators in most communities is because rehabilitation is a time-consuming and expensive activity, and most rehabilitators pay for it out of their own pockets.
How can I find a wildlife rehabilitator when an animal needs one?
Be certain that the animal you have found truly does need help from a wildlife rehabilitator (see the answer to the next question for guidance). If so, here are several ways you can find a wildlife rehabilitator:
- Google for “wildlife rehabilitator” in your particular town
- Use the National Wildlife Rehabilitators Association (NWRA) online directory of licensed wildlife rehabilitators:
- Call your local animal shelter, veterinarian, state wildlife agency, humane society, or animal control to ask for a name and contact information of a local wildlife rehabilitator
How can I be sure whether an animal is in need of being rescued?
Birds who collide with windows may appear to need help, but unless there is an obvious injury the bird may only be stunned—in an hour or so it may recover and fly off. Keep children and pets away and only call a wildlife rehabilitator if the bird does not recover. Some baby birds and mammals may seem too young to be on their own, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they are orphans. A parent may be nearby but not in view. For example, mother deer and rabbits leave their young alone most of the time, only returning a few times a day to nurse them. Otherwise, they rely on their young being camouflaged for protections. Yet to an unknowing person, the poor helpless baby bunnies or fawns look alone and orphaned! Here are some tips for sorting out when to call a rehabilitator for help.
Contact a wildlife rehabilitator in these cases:
- An animal has been attacked by a pet.
- An animal has been injured by a vehicle.
- A bird has struck a window and has not recovered in an hour or so.
- An animal is bleeding, shivering, or vomiting.
- Baby birds have been left unattended in the nest for several hours. Note: You need to glue your eyes to the nest for an hour, as sometimes mom or dad can sneak in without you knowing it!