Wildlife Rehabilitation has undergone a massive evolution through the years. Almost everyone has a story of their own “homegrown” wildlife whisperer in the neighborhood, down the street, or in the next county over that took in orphaned raccoons and raised them in their bathrooms, or even their own personal childhood stories when they found the nest of baby robins that had fallen out of the tree, and they found worms to hand feed them until they were ready to fly. This humble beginning of well-intentioned individuals armed with a short glimpse of “how to” gave rise and validity to wildlife rehabilitation as a profession, requiring specialized knowledge, practices and research.
Some may ask, why research and formalize an act that seems so organic, and worked when it was attempted so many years ago? The answer is simple – when we know better, we do better.
The days of cuddling baby animals is gone. Recorded data gives a clear picture of success rates and what does and does not work in rehabilitation. Excessive human contact can lead to complications and the most detrimental impact – imprintation. This lack of natural fear, and an increase of dependence on humans, makes survivability in the wild after release almost impossible. It’s not just about raising orphaned young, or healing an injury. The end goal of releasing the animal into the wild must remain a top priority. The decrease in contact and treatment time with animals has been clinically shown to reduce cortisol levels, the hormone produced by stress, in patients. The animals with decreased cortisol levels healed more quickly, grew better plumage and were released much faster. All of these things contribute to a better suited animal in the wild. It is difficult to avoid seeing these animals in need through a lens of human traits and attributes, but we have to remember, that they are wild animals first, not pets, and therefore have a much different path ahead.
Current standards and practices in the rehabilitation industry have changed considerably in just a few decades. Bottle feeding is rare, naming of patients is uncommon, and exposure is kept to an absolute minimum. Wildlife Images continues to seek out the best practices to ensure we are able to return animals to the wild with a high likelihood of survival. We take pride in teaching these measures to the next generation of wildlife rehabilitators.