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Become a Wildlife Rehabilitator


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The Wildlife Watch Binocular Summer 2005 Issue

So, You Want to Become a Wildlife Rehabilitator?

By Marilyn Leybra

I can’t help helping animals in distress.

When I took my first wild animal to the veterinarian, however, the vet had to refuse helping it. He said it was illegal for me to bring wildlife to him unless I were licensed by the State as a wildlife rehabilitator.

That incident sparked me to take a wildlife rehabilitator’s test and get licensed. The license allowed my name to be posted with the police department, veterinarians, as well as local and animal shelters as “legitimate” hands to help wildlife. Consequently, people bring all kinds of animals my way or notify me of their whereabouts. I am able to help many more animals than I otherwise would have because now people bring them to me or notify me of their whereabouts.

So, I still do what comes naturally to me, but the license lets me help even more animals. Becoming a licensed rehabber can give you endless rewards, but I have a few suggestions.

Use common sense. Human fear often exacerbates the plight of wild animals. Health departments and the media can actually cause people to believe that a raccoon going for a piece of food in their garbage must be rabid. (An animal with rabies has no interest in food.) Many people believe that if they touch a wild bird, they can get West Nile Virus whereas the virus actually is contracted through the bite of an infected mosquito. A little knowledge and common sense, though, go a long way in helping animals recover.

Be wise. Many times a well-meaning individual will do the wrong thing and actually harm the animal or herself. First, determine whether or not the animal needs help. Often it’s best to wait to see if a mother returns to her young.

In addition to the book knowledge that rehabbers get from preparing for the test — what I’ll call the basic science of being a “wildlife rehabilitator” — intuition and common sense play vital roles in our work. Direct experience has been my greatest teacher, and I recommend that even after you get your rehabilitator’s permit that you apprentice with rehabilitators who specialize in various areas of wild animal rehabilitation. Anyone who has the heart and mindset to help a “wild” creature, with a little direction, can do the same thing I do.

Imagine you found an orphaned baby rabbit. Treat her as you would treat an orphaned kitten, puppy, or human infant. Make her comfortable, warm, and cozy and then proceed to bottle feed her formula from a pet store. As the rabbit progresses, you’d progress to using some regular jarred baby food (vegetables), add some small pieces of cut-up apples as well as some grassy weeds such as clover and dandelion that she will be eating when she’s released.

Experience also has taught me about the benefits of moistened dog or cat chow. It’s the best emergency food and most easily accessible food for a baby bird. Most people think of worms and water, butnestling birds don’t have access to water. First and foremost, warmth and comfort are crucial to their survival. When you first get an injured or orphaned bird, just gently hold him in your hand, and you will provide needed warmth until you can get him onto a heat pad set to low or until you can place it in an incubator.

If interested in becoming a licensed rehabilitator, simply call your state’s wildlife agency. In New York State, it’s the Department of Environmental Conservation in Albany at 518-402-8985. Request information about taking the test given once a year, usually in April. Getting a license does not obligate you to do anything more than you feel capable of, but it does allow you to be recognized as somebody allowed by the State to have wildlife in your possession.

For people predisposed to care about a distressed animal, there is no greater feeling of satisfaction than to know you made his or her life a little easier, and that you were able to give the animal some comfort. Don’t always expect a “Thank you.” In fact, you may get a resentful, dirty look. But, I promise, you will still feel good.


Marilyn has been a wildlife rehabilitator in Rockland County for over 20 years. For more information about Marilyn’s rehab experience, please e-mail us (at the address below) and we will forward your posts to her.

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