Ever driven by a wild animal hit by a car? Ever encountered a cub during a hike or has your cat ever brought you a wounded bird? Or worse, ever witnessed a wildlife crime? Wildlife rescue centres respond to these and many more emergencies. They are wildlife hospitals, to rehabilitate and release these species back into the wild.
The objective of every wildlife rescue centre must be to release autochthonous fauna back into the wild. I’m specifying autochthonous as the reintroduction of non-native animals is illegal and can often lead to serious damage to local ecosystems and biodiversity. Rescue centres though, won’t refuse non-native animals. They will care for them as they’d do for any other animal and will find them proper accommodation, often a sanctuary.
Let’s make an example: you’re in your car, driving across the countryside, and you notice a fox on the roadside. She doesn’t move as she has probably been hit by a car. If you have, contrary –sadly- to most, compassion for the creature, calling a wildlife rescue centre is the first thing you have to do. Not the second, after interacting with the fox. Not the third, after trying to DIY-save her.
Taking initiatives in trying to rescue a wild animal can be dangerous for both you and the animal. This is why I recommend, as a very first reaction, to call a Centre and ask for directions. They will be able to provide advice on how to secure the animal –and yourself- and might even send a team to take care of the issue.
Following their instructions, it might be the case of bringing the fox to the nearest wildlife rescue centre. I highly recommend using gloves or any sort of protection as a wounded fox could see us as a threat and try to defend himself/herself. During transportation, be it a fox or any other wild animal, it’s useful to avoid any interaction. It has to be remembered that we’re dealing with wildlife, unaware of what we are or which our intentions might be. Ignoring the animal is the kindest act we can perform to avoid scaring the creature even more.
This is another aspect I wish to underline: when it comes to wildlife, it is necessary to resist our impulse for interaction, however good our intentions might be. No reassuring talk, no looks or even caresses – we’re not dealing with a pet. Two things, both negative, could happen:
- Not understanding our intentions, the animal could get excessively stressed, terrified and forced to stand our attentions.
- The animal could, very, very unlikely, actually find comfort in you and start to fear less human beings. Once back into his/her habitat, he/she could be overly confident around humans and get closer to populated centres. And, sooner or later, he/she might encounter people with worse intentions, risk being hit by a car or conflicts with domestic animals. And these are just a few of the risks associated to not fearing humans.
Thus, if you’re really interested into the animal’s wellbeing, it’s fundamental to restrict interactions as much as possible and let the animal keep that healthy fear of humans. We often act under the best intentions and, used to pets, forget how different wild creatures are from them.
Back to the fox case: you’ve finally brought the animal to the nearest wildlife rescue centre. Its volunteers will take charge of the fox, asking you routine question to better asses her conditions. Experienced personnel will provide all that is necessary for the fox’s recovery, including proper food based on the age and conditions of the animal, and qualified vets will overview the whole process. Remember that these centres are based on volunteerism and a donation, however small, could be of great help.
Vets in wildlife rescue centres are not like your everyday vet. Vets we often interact with are mostly specialized in pets and can do little when confronting wildlife. They don’t have access to proper infrastructures to rehabilitate a wild animal to freedom. Wildlife rescue centres though, can refer to different vets that have expertise on particular species. More often than not, they’re not volunteers and require bills to be paid so, again, a donation can ensure a larger number of animals is cared for.
Besides vets, medicines, medical equipment and well-prepared volunteers, these centres offer facilities that are adequate to wildlife rehabilitation. Isolated, wide and quiet, they fully respect animals’ wild nature. There should be an indoor area for intensive care and spacious fenced areas, including aviaries large enough to allow the largest birds to fly, to gradually reintroduce their guests to living free.
Besides financial or material donations, remember that wildlife rescue centres are in constant need of volunteers! Apply for volunteering then, there is no need for experience of specific backgrounds. You just need to be willing to get your hands dirty. It is a great opportunity to know more about the ecosystems around us and meet completely different creatures with respect to what we’re used to. I started my experience as a wildlife rescue centre volunteer several years ago and I still look forward to every release into the wild or provide support to the rehabilitation of fundamental species.
It is important to underline that the mission of a rescue centre is first to nature, the environment and biodiversity and only then to animals. These centres often are the only institutions that are able to provide support to protected or endangered species and their role in their freedom is fundamental to the conservation of local biodiversity. The majority of rescues are indeed due to anthropic causes and not natural ones.
Poaching surely is one of them. Every year, thousands of poached animals are rescued due to this phenomenon, out of control even in Europe. Confiscated, shot, trapped animals, even of endangered species, are frequent guests of these centres, at this point fundamental for the fight against poaching.
One last consideration from a veteran volunteer: most of the times, wildlife does not need our help. Unless the animal is noticeably and seriously injured, it is always better to avoid the stress of capturing and captivity, however temporary. They are very different creatures with respect to pets and are perfectly able to take care of themselves.
This consideration is even more felt when it comes to cubs or chicks. Unless injured, they should never be taken, not even to be brought to a rescue centre. It they are mammals, never touch them. The mother is probably around and, if we touch the cub, she won’t be able to recognize her young’s smell and will abandon him/her. In these cases, the best choice is to leave, as the mother won’t come back if we stay around. If you’re overly concern, you can come back in 6/8 hours: if the cub is still there, alone, it might be the case to call a wildlife rescue centre considering the mother might not be there.
As for birds, chicks that fall from the nest are looked after by their parents that will still provide food and protection. However awesome volunteers can be, the nutrition and care that natural parents can provide will always be better. In these cases, chicks can be put back in their nest if you find it or in a safe position not too far away – parents must still be able to find them – especially if there are cats around.
But, just in case, it is always better to call a Centre before you take any initiative.
Don’t take initiatives even regarding food, I’ve seen perfectly fine animals brought to the centre been compromised due to their rescuers giving them the wrong thing to eat. Even the wrong kind of milk cam kill a cub so –again- do not take initiatives or solutions found on Google: call a Centre, they will know how to direct you.
I apologise for this redundancy but I’ve seen people with the best intentions ruining the life of a wild animal too many times. I hope this post is helpful and was able to provide some guideline on how to behave in case of a “wild emergency”. Have you ever rescued wildlife? Did you know what a wildlife rescue centre is? Any other volunteer out there? Or, did I miss anything worth mentioning? More and deeper posts on wildlife rescue will come for sure. In the meanwhile, you can check my other posts on wildlife.