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Wildlife Rehabilitator  What They Do

Just the Facts


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dotImagine watching an eagle soar away, flying high in the sky. Thanks to your nursing care, the awesome bird can survive in its natural environment.

Wildlife rehabilitators care for sick, injured or orphaned wildlife. They release the creatures to the wild as soon as they can survive on their own.

dotSome wildlife rehabilitators work with many species. Others specialize in a certain species. Depending on the wildlife center, the person might work with land mammals, marine mammals, amphibians, birds or reptiles.

Animals that are too sick or that cannot survive on their own must be euthanized (put down).

"That's a big aspect of a wildlife rehabilitator's duties," says Lisa Borgia. She is the executive director of the National Wildlife Rehabilitators Association (NWRA). "It is extremely difficult for some wildlife rehabilitators to deal with that."

dotThe NWRA has members from Canada, the U.S. and other countries. Its website says that a wildlife rehabilitator's tasks vary depending on the center and on the species.

Tasks could include:

  • Cleaning cages
  • Feeding wildlife
  • Providing medical care under a veterinarian's supervision
  • Giving first aid
  • Dealing with the public
  • Supervising volunteers
  • Manning telephone hotlines
  • Keeping records
  • Giving public talks and workshops
  • Rescuing wildlife
  • Assisting with fund-raising activities
  • Performing administrative duties

When paid and volunteer rehabilitators work together at a center, the paid staff is likely to work directly with the animals -- dressing wounds, giving IVs, performing physical therapy and so on. Volunteers are more likely to man telephone help lines, deliver educational workshops and talks, clean cages and feed the animals.

The NWRA surveyed their volunteer workers to find out how much time they spent on the telephone. "Five hundred people reported answering half a million phone calls in one year," says Borgia. "That takes an awful lot of volunteer workers."

dotThe work is hard, both physically and emotionally. Wildlife rehabilitators lift heavy cages and animals. They work outside in all kinds of weather. They handle animals that are in pain and suffering, and that sometimes do not survive.

Depending on need, wildlife rehabilitators work night shifts, weekends and holidays. "At certain times of the year, we work 14- to 16-hour days," says John Benedik. He does wildlife rehabilitation. "There is no time for social activities for months at a time."

The work can be dangerous. "All wildlife can and does bite," says Benedik.

"This field has a high rate of burnout," warns Borgia. "Most last about five years."

dotBorgia believes a person with a physical disability could do the work. But they would have to be selective about the species they treated. "They could certainly work with orphaned song birds and small mammals like squirrels or rabbits," she says.

Most wildlife rehabilitators work for nonprofit organizations. Some work from their own homes. They seek funding and donations to cover their expenses. It is illegal to charge a fee for wildlife rehabilitation.

At a Glance

Help animals recover so they can be released back into the wild

  • You could work with many different species or specialize in just one
  • Euthanizing animals is a big part of this job
  • Wildlife rehabilitators must be licensed