Wildlife Rehabilitation: An Introduction
with CEU Certificate*
have taken this course
People who love animals hate to see them suffering. Whether it be their family pet or a wild creature, they want to see them thrive and live a happy life. Wildlife rehabilitators work to raise and rehabilitate wild animals so they can return to their natural homes. This can be a rewarding way to give back to the creatures we share the planet with.
In this course, you will learn all about Wildlife Rehabilitation. The course will teach you what to consider before taking on this daunting and fulfilling challenge. You will learn how to safely rescue an injured or orphaned wild animal. Also how to provide first-aid and medical treatment to animals in your care, and how to work with a veterinarian. This course covers a wide variety of animal terminology commonly used by wildlife and zoology professionals, and the standard established for Wildlife Rehabilitation for Intake, Daily Care, and Release.
Next the course explores some of the most common animals seen in a rehabilitation setting. It discusses the anatomy, wild habits, feeding requirements and housing requirements of some of the animal families you will likely encounter including:
- Songbirds and Aquatic Birds
- Raptors and Bats
- Rodents and Rabbits
Wildlife rehabilitation is providing professional care for sick, injured, or orphaned animals until they can be returned to the wild. In most cases, animals that cannot be returned to the wild must be humanely euthanized. In some special circumstances, animals can be maintained in a captive environment and used for educational purposes.
Rescue vs. Rehabilitation
Often a person's first introduction to wildlife rehabilitation starts with finding a sick, injured, or abandoned wild animal. Their compassion and curiosity lead them to want to care for the animal. However, animal rehabilitation requires special skills and knowledge that go beyond rescuing the animal and removing it from harm.
When you find a sick, injured, or abandoned animal that you believe is in need of rescue, you should contact a wildlife rehabilitator for advice and assistance. The best way to find a wildlife rehabilitator is to call:
Your local vet
Your local humane society
Or search the Internet for links rehab and rescue organizations
Goals of Rehabilitation
The main goal of rehabilitation is to get sick, injured, or orphaned wild animals back to their natural environment, so they can return to a normal wild life and continue to contribute to the diversity of their species.
Many factors go into attaining this goal:
Working with a veterinarian to provide proper medical care
Physical therapy and rehabilitation
Providing adequate nutrition -- understanding the specific nutritional requirement of each species under the rehabilitator's care, by working with a veterinarian
Keeping the animal wild. One of the key success factors permitting a wild animal to return to the wild is to reinforce their fear of humans. Animals who see humans as a source of food, comfort, or assistance, will not be able to successfully return to the wild and, therefore, may have to be euthanized.
Domestic, Wild, Feral
Domestic animals are those whose DNA structure has been fundamentally altered by generations of selective breeding to create an animal that is more compatible with the needs of humans for food, shelter, transportation, or companionship. The earliest known example of animal domestication was when man transformed wolves into dogs. It is believed that dogs were the first animal to be domesticated by humans over 15,000 years ago. Less aggressive wolves sought out the company of humans, who bred them with other less aggressive wolves. Over many generations, the result was the ancestor of today's dog. Not only was their nature altered, but their physiology was also changed. as well. Contrary to what Darwin speculated, all domestic dog breeds are descended from wolves. While there are a few dog breeds that still resemble their wolf ancestors, they all have significant changes.
Because canine DNA is so malleable, humans were able to go on to further selectively breed for certain characteristics. Now dogs come in all shapes and sizes, with even more being developed as the human need evolves. Once humans discovered they could selectively breed wolves to produce a desired companion, they began domesticating many things -- including other animals, and plants. Although it's possible to domesticate wild animals, such as foxes, (Ratliff, 2011) it takes many generations to successfully alter their DNA. A person may be able to tame a wild animal through hand rearing and a reward/punishment system, but the animal will still remain wild.
Wild animals fear and mistrust humans, by nature. This fear is reinforced by their mothers. This is a critical part of their survival and must be maintained at all costs. Wild animals spurn human contact and may behave aggressively toward humans if left with no choice. Usually, they will tend to evade people by hiding or fleeing.
A wild animal who has been forced to endure human companionship will still retain its wild nature. Even hand-raised animals can resort to wild behavior without notice. Although some behaviors can be modified, wild animals are unpredictable by nature. Some have senses of smell, hearing, or sight that humans can't even imagine. They may react negatively to a smell, sound, or sight of something that we don't even know is there. Therefore, it is impossible to completely control their behavior and remain entirely safe, unless rigid precautions are taken. Zoos and other institutions trained to deal with wild animals are the only places where wild animals should be housed for long periods of time, and then, only to promote education and conservation of their wild brothers.
Feral animals are those creatures that were once domesticated, but have returned to a wild state through human neglect. Their offspring will still be domestic, and they can be re-tamed with proper handling. There are millions of feral cats and dogs around the world. They can pose a significant threat to native wildlife, and suffer from neglect themselves.
Wildlife Rehabilitation Requirements:
It is illegal to keep captive wildlife in your home or on your property without the correct permits. Wildlife rehabilitators in every country in the world have to be licensed and bear the cost of obtaining the license and maintaining the education required to keep it updated. Check with your local government for information on how to get a license. If you're not sure where to start, your veterinarian, local zoo, or parks department may be able to help. You can also contact The International Wildlife Council for information about how to reach the proper authorities. You will need to work closely with your local wildlife, fisheries, or conservation department to maintain the correct permits and update them on the wildlife in your care.
There are very few paid jobs in the wildlife rehabilitation field. Most people do this on a voluntary basis, and many absorb all of the costs of maintaining an adequate rehabilitation facility at their home. These costs can be extreme.
Veterinary care - The reason animals need to be rehabilitated in the first place is because they are sick, injured, or orphaned. In all cases, they will require the care of a veterinarian. Finding a veterinarian that can treat exotic wildlife can be very difficult and expensive. Before you decide to become a wildlife rehabilitator, make sure there is a veterinarian willing to partner with you, and understand that you will almost certainly bear the financial burden.
Medication and First Aid Supplies - Sick and injured animals will usually need some type of medication or first-aid before returning to the wild; the cost associated generally falls to the rehabilitator.
Nutrition - The wildlife in your care will require specialized nutrition. They may also need supplies, such as bottles and tubes or IVs to feed them.
Habitat - Some animals require a large amount of space in which to learn to live in the wild. If you don't have adequate space to house them while they are ill, and also to allow them the freedom to re-acclimate to their wild environment, then you should consider volunteering at a facility instead of attempting to do in-home wildlife rehabilitation.
Continuing Education - To maintain your license and certifications, you may need to submit proof that you have taken ongoing classes to continue your education, and familiarize yourself with the latest information in the rehabilitation field. Many states/countries require that you update your license every year or two. The costs associated with continuing education fall to the rehabilitator.
Transportation- In some cases, it may be necessary to travel long distances to find a suitable release site. These should always be coordinated with your local wildlife, fisheries, and conservation department. In most cases, the cost of the associated travel is borne by the rehabilitator.
Caring for a wild animal and then releasing it back to the wild can be a very emotional experience, both positive and negative. At best, the animal will return to the wild and you will never know what happened to it; at worst, the animal will return to the wild and fail to thrive in the wild, despite your care. People who have difficulty separating or letting go of things are not good candidates for this type of work.
You might also have to face the devastating consequences that come when an animal can't be returned to the wild and has to be euthanized.Even though some animals may be able to remain in captivity and become ambassadors for education and conservation, this is not always an appropriate solution.
Many wild animals are protected by state, local, or even international treaties. CITES the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species is an international organization that aims to protect endangered species by regulating their sale and trade.
There are over 16,000 species threatened with extinction worldwide. Local and international laws attempt to keep them safe. As a wildlife rehabilitator, you can contribute an invaluable resource to these efforts. However, it takes training and dedication to ensure that you are a help, and not a hindrance. Organizations like Endangered Species International keep information about animals at risk worldwide, and the international efforts to prevent their extinction.
Rehabilitating wildlife, in most cases, requires a good amount of space. The rehabilitator needs to provide a safe environment for the animal to recuperate or develop, which is free from noise and chaos, and can be temperature controlled.
After the animal is healthy, they may need to learn essential survival skills. This might require a very large enclosure, depending on the type of animal.
Some animals, like snakes and amphibians, cannot control their own body temperature and need to be provided for. Make sure your property or facility meets all requirements by checking with your local officials for an inspection.
If you do not own the facility, make sure your landlord is in agreement with your plans to rehabilitate animals.
Human Health Concerns
Zoonotic diseases are transferred from animals to humans and can be very nasty. Some zoonotic diseases take the form of parasites transferred to humans from animals. In other cases, the animal carries a parasite that subsequently bites a human and infects them -- such as a raccoon that has ticks that carry Lyme disease, which is passed on to the rehabilitator. There is also a risk of an animal passing a disease, like rabies, directly to a human.
You should be aware of the potential zoonotic diseases associated with the type of animals you intend to care for, and the ways you can protect yourself from infection.
How to Become a Wildlife Rehabilitator
After carefully considering the financial, emotional, and health-related concerns, you have decided to go ahead with your goal of becoming a wildlife rehabilitator. You have the financial resources and the space necessary to take on such a challenge for the long haul. You will no doubt make a wonderful addition to the wildlife rehabilitation network.
The first thing you should do is visit at least one established wildlife rehabilitation facility and spend as much time there as you can. Ideally, you would start your road to responsible rehabilitation by volunteering at a nearby facility for at least six months. First, look for a facility that specializes in the type of animals you want to work with. If that is not possible, try to find a general facility. Even if you can only find an organization that specializes in a different class of animal, you can still learn valuable lessons about rehab by volunteering there. If there are no facilities within driving distance, think about asking if you can use your vacation time to spend a week volunteering at a facility that is accredited to do what you want to do. Spending time at a competent facility will give you a chance to see what works, and what does not, so you can set yourself up for success from the start.
Next, study the wildlife in your area. Make sure you can identify the different species that you might encounter as a rehabilitator. You should consider all classes of animals, even if you only plan to specialize in one type of rehabilitation. You may be called upon to consult on other cases once you are a known resource in your area. Accurately identifying an animal is the first step in providing it the best possible care.
Set up a financial plan. Are you hoping to operate as an NPO (non-profit organization) or NGO (non-government organization)? Find out what legal requirement you have to meet to be able to accept donations to help support your organization. If you choose to self-fund, make sure you have a sound financial plan in place. Animal rehabilitation can be a long-term prospect and requires long-range planning.
Set up your facility and obtain the necessary licenses and certifications. Meet with your local veterinarian(s) to establish their areas of expertise and the assistance they will be able to provide.
Join any reputable societies available in your country, state, or region -- and get to know as many other animal rehabilitation, and animal experts as you can. You never know when their help may become invaluable.
Other Ways to Help
Monetary resources are vital to wildlife rehabilitation organizations. No one pays them for rescuing and rehabilitating animals, and the costs associated with the care and treatment of injured, sick and orphaned wildlife are very high.
If you really want to get involved, but don't have the time or resources necessary to become a rehabilitator, make a financial contribution. Do your research and make sure the operation is legitimate, but when you find one that you feel is doing a good job, please consider making a donation.
If a donation is not an option, consider volunteering at a rehab facility. The more volunteers they have, the more animals they are able to help. Any funds that have to be diverted to paying the staff are taken away from the animals that need help.
If you don't have the money to donate and don't have the time to volunteer, or a facility is too far away, consider fundraising on behalf of an organization. For instance, let's say you want to help wild black rhinos, but you live in the U.S., where there are obviously no wild black rhinos -- that doesn't mean you can't help. The American Association of Zoo Keepers sponsors an event called Bowling for Rhinos. You can get a bowling team together and raise money for rhino conservation and rehabilitating orphaned baby black rhinos.
Consider creating a nature-friendly habitat in your backyard. There are many ways you can make your backyard a safe and nature-friendly place for wild creatures to enjoy with you. Contact conservation organizations in your area about ways to create a backyard wildlife sanctuary.
Keep domestic pets under control. Domestic cats are especially harmful to native wildlife. Especially in a place like the United States and Australia, where they are considered an invasive species. Domestic cats are not indigenous to the Americas or Australia, yet they kill billions of small native animals every year. So if you have a pet cat, keep it indoors or create an enclosed "catio." Make sure to spay and neuter all of your animals.
Lesson 1: Introduction to Wildlife Rehabilitation
Lesson 2: How You Can Become a Wildlife Rehabilitator
Lesson 3: When & If to Rescue
Lesson 4: Helping Animals with Wildlife Rehabilitation
Lesson 5: How to Catch a Wild Animal for Rehabilitation
Lesson 6: Transporting Wild Animals to a
Lesson 7: Human Health Concerns in Wildlife Rehabilitation
Lesson 8: How Else Can You Help Wildlife?
Lesson 9: Wild Animals as Pets? NEVER!
Lesson 10: How to Safely and Humanely Deal with Nuisance Wildlife
Lesson 11: Sadness and Grief
- To show what you can do to take part in wildlife rehab
- To provide information on what you need to do to become a professional wildlife rehabilitator
- To explain the most common causes for animal injuries, signs and symptoms of injury and what you should (and shouldn’t) do from there
- To increase awareness of the human health risks and what you can do to prevent them
- To educate you on the essentials of dealing with pesky, problematic wildlife
- And, perhaps most importantly, real life tips, training and methods that you can use to benefit all of the creatures that visit your own backyard
- Completely Online
- Printable Lessons
- Full HD Video
- 6 Months to Complete
- 24/7 Availability
- Start Anytime
- PC & Mac Compatible
- Android & iOS Friendly
- Accredited CEUs
Lesson 1: Fundamentals of Wildlife Rehabilitation
Lesson 2: When and If to Rescue and Rehabilitate
Lesson 3: Providing Medical Care in Wildlife Rehabilitation
Lesson 4: Wildlife Rehabilitation Standards
Lesson 5: Avian Rehabilitation: Songbirds and Aquatic Birds
Lesson 6: Wildlife Rehabilitation: Carnivores
Lesson 7: Wildlife Rehabilitation: Rodentia and Lagomorphs
Lesson 8: Wildlife Rehabilitation, Other Winged Animals: Raptors and Bats
Lesson 9: Wildlife Rehabilitation: Deer, Antelope, Other Mammals
Lesson 10: Wildlife Rehabilitation: Marsupials
Lesson 11: Wildlife Rehabilitation: Reptiles
Lesson 12: Wildlife Rehabilitation: Final Considerations
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- "What was most helpful were the clear and concise directions on how to help an animal while injured or sick." -- Cortney S.
- "My Instructor is wonderful! She was extremely available throughout the course and super fast to respond to any questions and comments!" -- Stephanie P.
- "I enjoyed it very much. It was very helpful to me and added reinforcement to my volunteer service at our local Rehab Center. Thanks again." -- Judi R.
- "Nice job!" -- Julia T.
- "All of the information in this course was extremely helpful to me and will be for others....This course was full of amazing information and the instructor was very hands on. She always got my grade information on my assignments back to within 2 days of completion no matter how busy she was." -- Kelly A.
- "It was a good overall course." -- Jacqui E.
- "The instructor sure knows what she's talking about when it comes to wildlife rehabilitation." -- Natalie R.
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