When a Wild Animal is in Distress, Rehabilitators Come to the Rescue
Even if you’re not an avid outdoor explorer, at some point you have probably encountered a wild animal that is sick, injured or orphaned. While it’s tempting to take these creatures under your own wing and nurse them back to health, they will usually need a trained wildlife rehabilitator to get back on the right track. Their goal is to help animals become strong and healthy enough to return to their natural habitats.
The Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (VDGIF) is the lead conservation agency in the Commonwealth, and is responsible for the management of inland fisheries, wildlife and recreational boating. When dealing with animals in distress, the VDGIF often works with rehabilitation hospitals like the Wildlife Center of Virginia.
But there are so many animals in need, across the Commonwealth, that these organizations simply can’t handle them all. That’s where hundreds of trained rehabilitation volunteers come in, working from their own homes and garages to help guide these animals back to health and strength.
Rehabilitation work isn’t for everyone, and it can be overwhelming. It’s not just holding animals and soothing them back to health—it often involves ‘round-the-clock feeding and wound care. And it can be emotionally exhausting, since these stories don’t always end happily.
But as you can imagine, seeing an animal become healthy and strong is quite a reward. Wildlife rehabilitators provide an invaluable service to their communities, helping half a million wild animals in the United States each year.
What You Can Do
- Visit a rehabilitation center, like the Wildlife Center of Virginia, to learn more about the animals they treat. You’ll get to know the kinds of injuries they see most often, and the processes that help animals get back where they need to be. (If you can’t get there anytime soon, you can browse the patient archives to see some of their past cases.)
- Learn more about what to do when you see a wild animal that appears sick, injured or orphaned. Should you leave it alone, or do you need to intervene? The best way to proceed might vary by species, and you might need special instructions on capturing and transporting it safely to a wildlife rehabilitator near you.
- Become a licensed wildlife rehabilitator yourself! There are several levels of licensure, depending on your experience and training. The VDGIF has a detailed handbook that explains the different levels of licensure and how to qualify for each one. The Wildlife Center of Virginia offers training opportunities to set you on the right path.
- If you aren’t ready to become a wildlife rehabilitator, look into other ways to be helpful. You can volunteer to help conservation efforts that keep animals safe and healthy, or to do some of the work that supports rehabilitation efforts. You can also contribute some of the supplies that keep these animals on the mend.
- To learn more about volunteering and working in wildlife rehabilitation, you can visit the National Wildlife Rehabilitators Association. They have a helpful overview of what this work is like and an outline of things you should know before taking on this responsibility.