Strategies to Reduce Wildlife Needing Rehabilitation
© 2005 WildAgain Wildlife Rehabilitation. Updated from an earlier article by the same title initially published in the NWRA Quarterly in 2000.
Wildlife rehabilitation is more than helping wildlife that has been injured, orphaned, or displaced in order to return them to the wild. Wildlife rehabilitators work diligently to prevent wildlife from being injured, orphaned, or displaced. The following identifies a few strategies to help reduce the numbers of wild animals coming into rehabilitation. It is a starter list meant to stimulate our discussion about how to prevent problems and keep wild creatures in the wild.
Educate the public on ways to prevent wildlife orphans, injury and kidnapping. Distribute info sheets at veterinary clinics, pet stores, feed stores, community fairs, etc. on humane solutions and ways to prevent injuring, orphaning or kidnapping wildlife. Put articles in newspapers and newsletters (e.g., Audubon, homeowner associations, humane societies). Help people appreciate and respect wildlife with talks to schools, community groups, and other public gatherings. Explain wildlife protection laws. Encourage the public and businesses to protect wildlife from harm (keep pets under control, do not shoot protected birds, use non-lethal control methods, etc.).
Educate veterinary clinic staffs and other animal referral sources on ways to prevent creating orphans, injuring animals, and kidnapping. Ask them to help spread the word. Enlist the support of veterinary technicians and receptionists, animal control agencies, animal rescue groups, pet store staffs, zoos, biologists, and stores selling animal feed. Talking one-on-one is great, but you can reach hundreds more people through information sheets, newsletters, and presentations.
Reduce numbers of animals orphaned due to tree trimmers, landscapers, chimney sweeps, roofers, building repair and construction crews, etc. Explain the problem with creating orphans or injuring animals. Ask them to prevent the problem from occurring. Provide info sheets for their offices and crews on ways to avoid creating orphans or injuries, and how to encourage the wild mothers to retrieve healthy offspring. Provide phone numbers that they can call for advice in helping avoid or resolving human-wildlife conflicts – or if an animal is injured or orphaned.
Improve phone hotline program and advice given. Make sure that all rehabilitators and volunteers answering the phone understand that not all wildlife is in need of rescue and how to evaluate the situation. Many times the caller can be given info to resolve current concerns and prevent future problems that could require wild animals to be brought to rehabilitation (e.g., keeping pets away from the rabbit nest, not feeding raccoons and enhancing the risk for them to transmit diseases to congregated animals). Try to consider the phone call an an educational opportunity instead of a frustration.
Make sure that people answering the phone have adequate knowledge about natural history, common problems (and solutions), risks, regulations, and liabilities. Strengthen problem-solving skills as well as ability to motivate the caller to take humane and positive action – and reduce risk to the animals. Respond promptly to phone questions.
Reduce trapping and relocation programs. Members of the public often do not realize the reasons that trapping and relocating wildlife are rarely an effective long-term solution to a human-wildlife conflict. Instead, suggest other non-lethal, humane solutions to avoid or resolve problems. Minimize or eliminate trap loan programs offered by government agencies by providing education and better alternatives. Explain that trapping and relocating wildlife may result in the animal’s death due to improper relocation, or it could result in the spread of disease. Also, trapping and relocation programs violate state and/or local regulations in many areas due to disease risks, such as rabies, distemper.
Reduce numbers of animals orphaned due to nuisance control practice. Informing people of humane, non-lethal methods to resolve human-wildlife conflicts is one of the best ways to start. Regardless, some people will still contact nuisance control companies to ‘take care of the problem.’ Try to educate and motivate the nuisance control and pest control operators and companies to try non-lethal, humane methods. Consider action to change state and local regulations for nuisance control practices. The subject of nuisance control company practices is particularly difficult and highly political. John Hadidian and Laura Simon, both at the Humane Society of the United States, both have extensive experience with the subject and are excellent resources.
Reunite wild babies with their parents as often as possible. Reuniting young wildlife with the parent(s) is a great way keep to juveniles in the wild and not needing rehabilitation. However, the process to reunite them may be fairly complicated and include some risk. Study the topic in advance, develop a plan for assessing and reuniting the youngsters, and be prepared for quick action when the rescuer calls. Know which species will retrieve their young and if retrieval will be safe for all involved. Develop (or find) policy and action plans related to when reunions are possible or appropriate. Learn the risks and how to minimize them for the humans and the wild animals. Ensure that those answering calls from the public understand the objectives, plans, species, timing, and risks of reuniting the juveniles.
Consider placing wild babies with foster parents. In some situations, it is possible to enlist the help of wild parents in raising some extra young. Like reunions, this can be complex and require rapid responses. It also requires advance study of the natural history of common species arriving in rehabilitation (which species will foster young), developing a plan, considerable preparation (i.e., knowing where there are nests or dens with young of the same species and how to safely get to them without scaring off the parents), and being prepared for quick action. Be careful to avoid placing too many birds in a nest and thus affecting survival of all the young. Again, a policy and decision tree or flow chart would be very helpful. Having well trained and qualified people arranged in advance and available to help place the young is critical.
Identify risks to wildlife and work to reduce them. Consider what can be done to reduce the small hazards, such as fishing hooks and lines, plastic soda holders, yogurt containers, litter. Also consider what things affect large numbers of wild animals that are brought into rehabilitation and what can be done about those: wildlife policies and regulations (e.g., pesticide use, poisoning, trapping of “non-target” species), habitat loss, lack of safe wildlife coordinators, pollution, injuries by pets, lighted structures that attract migrating birds at night (e.g., Fatal Light Awareness Program), and more. If possible, collaborate with partners particularly those focused on the types of issues, such as environmental groups, animal welfare groups, wildlife habitat groups and government agencies.
Next Steps. There are many different possible strategies to protect wildlife as well as to reduce the numbers of wild animals needing rehabilitation. Identify some activities that you know impact wildlife. Start with small projects instead of taking on the largest projects first. Take action on what you can. Enlist help of other rehabilitators, groups, communities, and agencies. Collaborate. Share materials, information and strategies. Take a step at a time. These strategies don’t offer a quick or easy fix, but every little bit can help wildlife and rehabilitators.
American Bird Conservancy, Humane Society of the United States, American Humane Association. Cats Indoors.
Barten, Stephen. 1986. “Producing an Effective Presentation”. Wildlife Rehabilitation. MN: NWRA.
Casey, Shirley and Allan Casey. 2002. “When the Public Calls the Veterinary Clinic about Wildlife”. The American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association. Spring. Also at www.ewildagain.org/pubs/vet_clinic_tips.htm
Casey, Shirley and Allan Casey. 2005. Translocating Wildlife: Who’s Involved and How? www.Ewildagain.org.
Cunningham, A. 1996. Disease Risks of Wildlife Translocations. Conservation Biology 10, 349-155.
Diehl, Scott and Todd Durian. 1990. “Wildlife Rescue”. Wildlife Rehabilitation. MN: NWRA.
Fund for Animals. 2005. Series on Co-existing with Wildlife and Preventing Wildlife Problems. http://www.fund.org/urbanwildlife/
Gibbs, Marjorie. “Putting Baby Back”, Journal of Wildlife Rehabilitation, Summer, 1998, pp. 33-40.
Hadidian, John. Humane Society of the United States. Gaithersbury, MD. Personal conversation.
Hadidian, J., G. Hodge, and J. Grandy. 1997. Wild Neighbors. Golden, CO: Fulcrum Publishing.
Humane Society of the United States. 2005. Find Humane Solutions to Conflicts with Your Wild Neighbors. http://www.hsus.org/humane_living/living_in_harmony_with_animals/find_humane_solutions_to_conflicts_with_your_wild_neighbors.html
Klein, Patricia. 1999.Campaign to change the design of the Yoplait Yogurt container (collaboration between independent rehabilitator and HSUS). Personal conversation.
Jacobs, Shannon. 2003. Healers of the Wild, 2nd Edition. CO: Johnson Books.
Parke, Carolynn and Michael Mesure. 1999.Fatal Light Attraction Program (FLAP). Personal conversation.
Pokras, Mark and Charles Sedgwick. “Wildlife Emergencies: How to Cope with Them Before They Happen”. Wildlife Rehabilitation. MN: NWRA, 1990.
Sparks, Bridget and Shirley Casey. 1998. “Reuniting Young Wild Mammals with Their Mothers”, Journal of Wildlife Rehabilitation, Fall/Winter, pp. 3-8.
Simon, Laura. 1998. Fund for Animals; CT Rehabilitators Association. Personal Conversation.
Strohbar, Lou. 1997. “The Telephone as an Educational Tool”. Principles of Wildlife Rehabilitation. Saint Cloud, MN: NWRA.
Shirley Casey has been a licensed wildlife rehabilitator since 1986. She is president and co-founder of WildAgain Wildlife Rehabilitation, Inc., in Evergreen, Colorado which conducts research and publishes on wildlife related topics. She publishes on and conducts a variety of training programs for rehabilitators, wildlife agencies and others. She has developed training and publications to help rehabilitators address a wide range of wildlife rehabilitation capacity issues.
Bridget Sparks, supervised Wildkind, a wildlife rehabilitation program for the Humane Society for Larimer County, Fort Collins, Colorado. She handled or supervised 5000+ telephone calls annually about human-wildlife conflicts. She rehabilitated 2000+ wild animals annually. She was a wildlife rehabilitator from 1990-2001.