How to become a wildlife rehabilitator

A wildlife rehabilitator works with injured and orphaned wild animals and birds, and prepares them for release into the wild. Wildlife rehabilitators are hired by rescue and rehabilitation centers run by non-profit organizations. Many rehabilitators run their own wildlife rehabilitation operations from their own homes. Government agencies also employ vet technicians and wildlife specialists at the state and governmental levels. Large centers may hire educators, research scientists and fundraising specialists. As a wildlife rehabilitator, you will be called any time of the day or night to rescue wild animals. Since most of these animals are most likely injured, you will be providing first aid to them before bringing them to the rescue center. You must be aware of the dangers that you may face while giving first aid, because wild animals can show aggressive behavior like biting. You will need to know how to safely handle and restrain wild animals under your care. If the animal still stands no chance of survival after being given a full course of treatment at the center, you may have to euthanize (kill) it.

An important part of your work as a wildlife rehabilitator is educating the public about wildlife conservation. As the human population grows and continues to move into the space of wild animals, making people understand what is happening is part of your job. You may have to manage client, public and media communication and outreach programs, including acting as a spokesperson for the organization. You may have to manage online communications including the website, newsletters, social media, and other donor and stewardship communications. You might have to develop the budget and help with fundraising. You must have problem solving skills since you will need to find solutions to various problems involving wild animals and their habitats. A rehabilitator’s duties range from construction and maintenance to veterinary nursing and habitat design. Additional duties include follow-up treatments, daily rounds and observations, the feeding of young nursing mammals or the hand feeding of chicks, and assisting with veterinary examinations and surgeries.

A surprising amount of time is spent in getting food for the animals. This can include looking for wild insects and plants, raising and caring for farmed insects and rodents, and asking grocery stores and other companies for donated produce and seeds.  On an annual basis, rehabilitators can expect to spend 35% of their time caring for animals, 35% working with the public, 15% handling administrative tasks, and 15% managing the facility. Intake rehabilitators are the public face of the wildlife center. They get the necessary history on the animal from the person who saw the animal, gathering information that assists in its diagnosis and care. That can include doing an exam to see if the animal has any life threatening problems. Members of the public are usually in an emotional state during their initial interactions with a wildlife rehabilitator, especially if the rehabilitator is called out to a crisis. The person may be scared of the animal, as well as worried about the animal’s welfare. Part of the rehabilitator’s regular job is to counsel these individuals and help them make the best choice for the animal. Often rehabilitators’ duties include blood and faecal analyses for parasite identification, packed cell volume, white blood cell counts, and differential blood cell counts.

Paperwork is one of the most important and time consuming tasks that is done daily at rehabilitation organisations, including for animals that have been at the organisation a long time. Every bit of information is recorded about each of the animals including their background history, treatments preformed and potential problems picked up during rehabilitation. While recording each treatment may seem like the most important information, recording behavior, feeding patterns, weights and even faecal matter helps staff to understand and efficiently treat the animal. All of these records are kept on file and on an online database. This is so that it is easy for a staff member to go back to a previous case and find out why it was successful or unsuccessful. With these records staff slowly start to pick up on species specific traits such as feeding habits, high stress factors and how to treat injuries in different ways. Rehabilitators do extensive research on and planning for each species that enters the center.

Research includes information about the diet, caging, and release requirements of the animal. To do this job, a university degree is not always required but you may need knowledge of and experience in ecology, biology, zoology, business, veterinary medicine, public policy, construction, natural history, basic pathology, parasitology (especially zoonoses, which are diseases transmitted from animals to humans), anatomy, bookkeeping, fundraising and nutrition. Many rehabilitators learn the skills they need through hands-on experience. Volunteering for a rehabilitation center and participating in an intern program are two ways to help develop these skills. Some paid positions might require a bachelor’s degree or an associate’s degree as a veterinary technician or a related field. Many rehabilitators are unpaid volunteers. Good wildlife rehabilitators have certain characteristics. They are adventurous. It is common to find them conducting field studies for research. Working in the field typically involves extensive travel, often to remote areas that may lack all modern conveniences. They might have to travel to other countries and come into contact with indigenous peoples with very different cultures. Good wildlife rehabilitators are effective communicators. Written and oral comprehension skills are important both for college and the job. In the field, information on animal movements, issues or other important data can arrive through telephone or radio, or the local residents might have critical information for you. Wildlife rehabilitators sometimes have to report their findings in speeches. They must also be able to exchange ideas and instructions with colleagues, team members and support personnel. Good wildlife rehabilitators have good interpersonal skills.

Typically, they work in a team, not only in the center. In the field, a team might have a rehabilitator supported by a tracker or guide, veterinary personnel, a medic, one or more drivers and, if needed, an interpreter. Wildlife rehabilitators must be able to deal effectively with a variety of personalities, education levels and cultural backgrounds. Wildlife rehabilitators are detail-oriented. Whether they are doing research or paperwork, they must record their findings accurately. They need to take all of the details, analyze them and form logical conclusions. Wildlife rehabilitators need stamina. Stamina can be emotional, such as persisting when results are few or obstacles are numerous. However, wildlife rehabilitators working in the field also need physical stamina. Some areas are inaccessible even with the most rugged vehicle or sure-footed mount, requiring the rehabilitator to hike while carrying his equipment and gear. Days may begin early and end late. Temperatures may be extreme, and the rehabilitator may experience rain, snow, dust storms or other weather patterns that are uncomfortable.

The work can require carrying and lifting of heavy animals, crawling or bending in cramped spaces. Useful hands-on skills that wildlife rehabilitators need include animal handling; knowledge of wild animal behavior; basic wound management; animal rescue techniques; an ability to identify and use basic medical supplies, including common bandage materials, syringes, and needles; experience with basic construction and maintenance tools; expertise in microscopy (using a microscope); an excellent telephone presence; and conflict resolution skills. It is illegal to attempt to rehabilitate a wild animal without the appropriate legal permits. In certain countries, before you receive your permits, you must meet various requirements, such as specialized training, participation in mentorship programs, facility inspections, and written or oral exams. The average annual wage for animal care and service workers is $23,580. Non-farm animal caretakers, receive $22,970. This is lower than what $32,400 paid to animal trainers each year. Volunteer wildlife rehabilitators don’t receive pay. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) doesn’t publish information about wildlife rehabilitation, but it does have data for animal care and service workers. According to the BLS, the number of employment opportunities in this field was projected to increase 11% from 2014-2024, which is a bit faster than average.

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