The Rehabilitation Process
The rehabilitation process begins with a physical exam in our Clinic. Here, Animal Care staff assess the extent of an animal’s illness or injury. Of course, wild animals are not the most cooperative of patients, so we oftentimes need to anesthetize the animal to be certain we are able to safely provide a thorough exam. We might also take radiographs, perform simple tests, and collect laboratory samples if needed.
Once we have evaluated an animal’s condition and have determined that it might be capable of surviving its illness or injury, we then must treat it accordingly. Our Animal Care staff must be knowledgeable about a wide variety of species and how to meet their needs. We deal with all native species of wildlife. One day we might get a nest full of cat-attacked American Robins. The next day we might get a very angry injured adult raccoon. Clearly the approach for treatment is going to be different from species to species and even from one animal to the next.
After an animal is out of intensive care, it eventually graduates to an outdoor enclosure. Animal Care staff must assess an animal’s ability to climb, run, fly, crawl, slither and soar. Our pre-release cages have a variety of perches at different heights, large logs to run over and under, tunnels to crawl through, dens to hide in, boxes of dirt to dig in, and ponds to swim in.
Once outside, orphaned animals have the chance to grow, learn natural behaviors and get accustomed to the sights and sounds of being outside. Injured animals get a chance to be back outside where stress levels are considerably lower for them, as well as time to strengthen and regain the physical abilities they had before their injury. Although we maintain a strict policy of limiting human contact for all of our wild patients, there are noises and unavoidable contact when an animal is housed in an inside enclosure. Once outside, we find that the animals will start behaving more normally again, now that they are experiencing less human induced stress.
The ultimate goal for all animals that come in for rehabilitation is to be released back into the wild. Before any animal can be released, we must be absolutely certain that they can take care of themselves in the wild. It’s a tough world out there! For orphaned animals, this involves a lot of things. Since these animals were hand-raised by humans, they are at a greater disadvantage than if they had been raised by their wild parents. Animal Care staff takes every precaution to ensure that immature animals do not become imprinted on humans. An imprinted animal thinks it’s a human. Therefore, it has little to no fear of, and associates itself socially with, humans. This can be a real problem for animals, especially during mating seasons. An imprinted animal is not capable of surviving in the wild and therefore cannot be released.