Wildlife rehabilitation involves caring for injured, ill, displaced, and orphaned wild animals – from bats to wolves to eagles to woodpeckers – with the goal of releasing physically fit and psychologically sound animals back into their natural habitat. Each animal is examined, diagnosed, and treated through a program of veterinary care, hospital care, feeding, medicating, physical therapy, exercising, and pre-release conditioning.
For rehabilitation to be deemed successful, released animals must be able to truly function as wild animals. This includes being able to recognize and obtain the appropriate foods, select mates of their own species and reproduce and show the appropriate fear of potential dangers (people, cars, dogs, etc…). To accomplish this, releases are planned for appropriate weather, season, habitat, and location.
Some animals brought into wildlife rehab centers in Washington, of course, are not releasable. Some of these animals can provide valuable research information and some are suitable as educational aids; others may need to be euthanized.
Some people advocate for “letting nature take its course,” indicating that injured, ill, and orphaned wild animals should be allowed to meet their natural fate. However, records indicate that the majority of distressed animals handled by rehabilitators are suffering not because of “natural” occurences, but because of human intervention. Some of these are accidental, some are intentional, and many are preventable – such as those by vehicles, mowers, pets, high-voltage wires, firearms, traps, poisons and oil spills.
Wildlife rehabilitation is a profession that is licensed by each state. Most rehabilitators, however, are volunteers and pay any expenses out of their own pockets. Typically, their capability (both financial and time wise) is limited and the demand is great, given all the calls from the public for assistance.
NOTE: It is unlawful to possess wildlife for the purpose of rehabilitation without first obtaining a valid “Wildlife Rehabilitation Permit”.
Your state departments of fish and wildlife should keep lists of rehabilitators and can tell you which ones serve your area.
For 18 years in Southern California, I was a licensed wildlife rehabilitator who cared for and healed thousands of animals. I am truly grateful that since moving to the Pacific Northwest, I have yet to encounter the necessity to being licensed and all I’ve had to do here is witness the beauty of nature.