Published On: Thu, Dec 15th, 2016

Wildlife rehabilitators aid injured, sick or orphaned animals

Imagine seeing a hawk stumbling helplessly on the ground, a porcupine lingering for days in the same area incapable of climbing to the safety of the trees, discovering a nest of orphaned bunnies in your back yard or perhaps a songbird that was injured in a window strike. Would you know what to do?

If not, you are not alone. While situations like these are not uncommon, most people do not have the knowledge and expertise to safely and effectively address them. Filling that void are trained professionals who provide accurate advice and assistance for injured, sick or orphaned wildlife.

Wildlife rehabilitator Judith Pasko, who owns Cummington Wildlife Inc., has been providing care and counsel about wildlife in need for the past 10 years.

She said the best thing people can do if they find wildlife in distress is to contact a local rehabilitator, if possible, before intervening in any way.

“People should call us, give us all the information they can on the animal and it’s condition, and if possible, text us pictures. Then we can begin by giving them advice over the phone,” Pasko said.

That initial contact can determine whether an animal may need immediate care by a veterinarian or transportation to a rehabilitation facility. Rehabilitators can explain how to safely collect and monitor the animal until it can be picked up by a rehabilitator or wildlife professional, or offer reasons why an animal should be left alone for its own well-being.

Wildlife rehabilitators often save more animals by giving good advice to the public than by actually taking an animal into care.

Nancy Bordewieck of Dawndale Farm in Bernardston and her daughter Kathleen Bordewieck are both wildlife rehabilitators. Nancy said they average roughly 400 to 500 calls a year, while they physically care for about 100 animals in the same time period.

Common injuries

Rehabilitators say that commonly caused injuries include wildlife flying into windows, being struck by vehicles, attacked by free-roaming domestic cats and dogs, being orphaned as babies and left to starve, or being “kidnapped” and improperly handled by well-intentioned people who believe an animal is in need of help when that is not the case.

A wildlife rehabilitator’s primary goal is to reunite separated baby animals with a parent when possible, and to nurse sick or injured animals back to health so they successfully can be returned to the wild.

To do this, they need extensive knowledge of natural history and an understanding of a variety of species regarding their life cycles, habitat, biology, feeding requirements, nesting and denning habits, physical and behavioral characteristics, and environmental stressors, as well as basic medical care.

“We are not vets and we don’t pretend to be, though we do work closely with veterinarians in dealing with seriously injured animals,” Pasko said. “They often share their knowledge with us, and we share our knowledge of natural history with them, so it’s good teamwork.”

Specialized care

Most rehabilitators specialize in particular species based on their training, interest and available facilities.

Cummington Wildlife specializes in the rehabilitation of wild rabbits, songbirds and ducklings, but accepts other small mammals and reptiles into care.

Pasko has a large raised deck enclosed with big windows that provide light, serenity and views into the woods for recovering animals. She also has a duck habitat, rabbit hutches and multipurpose cages to meet the needs of a variety of other species.

“My space is quiet and stress-free so I can focus on the more sensitive species like orphaned wood ducklings who can cry themselves to death, too terrified to eat unless we can get them past that,” she said.

At Dawndale Farm, the Bordewiecks care for small mammals, songbirds, water fowl and raptors.

“Judy is very good with the skittish animals – our facility is loud and noisy,” Nancy Bordewieck said.

While Nancy, who Pasko describes as the “squirrel whisperer,” does the daily care for mammals and small birds at the farm, Kathleen primarily attends to injuries, and oversees raptor care in their large aviary, focusing on hawks and owls.

“Our house was always a menagerie,” said Kathleen, 24, who grew up at the farm watching her mother rehabilitate wildlife. “I really got into raptors at an early age.”

Both facilities are nonprofit organizations. Neither accepts carnivores into care, but can recommend other rehabilitators who do.

“People who do things like foxes and coyotes often don’t do prey species,” Kathleen said.

Nancy noted that Urban Wildlife in Springfield does an “excellent job with animals like raccoons and other carnivores.”

Volunteer service

Being a wildlife educator is a commitment of time, energy and money on a voluntary basis, so those who do the work see it as a calling that they are passionate about.

During the “baby season” — the busiest time of year that is generally between April and October, rehabilitators can be on the go from the early morning hours until late into the evening caring for their charges.

“We don’t receive any government funding and we cannot legally ask people to pay for our services, so we rely on donations and fundraising,” Pasko said.

It is illegal in Massachusetts for people who are not properly licensed to care for, relocate or release any wild species without. Rehabilitators must have state, and often federal, licenses to legally care for wildlife.

In Massachusetts, the state license covers the care of small mammals and non-dangerous species. Bear, moose, deer, and venomous snakes all require a special permit from the state Division of Fisheries & Wildlife.

A federal license is required to treat avian species such as raptors, songbirds and water fowl. And in Massachusetts, rehabilitators must obtain a state license before qualifying for a federal one.

“There is an urgent need for more wildlife rehabilitators,” Pasko said. “There are too many animals who are in need of help and they need more well-trained people to help out.”

Rehabilitation seminars

Pasko and the Bordewiecks helped create the new state study guide for licensing exams, and for the second year in a row they are offering seminars to help people interested in becoming a wildlife rehabilitator.

Two seminars on “Preparing to Become a Licensed Wildlife Rehabilitator” will be hosted by the University of Massachusetts Amherst College of Natural Sciences this winter.

The first seminar scheduled for Jan. 21 and 28 quickly filled to capacity, so a second was scheduled for Feb. 18 and 25 and is still open for enrollment. The enrollment cap is 25.

To sign up for the seminar, contact Nancy Bordewieck at 413-834-5733, or visit the Dawndale Farm on Facebook for a printable enrollment form. Participants are accepted in the order that they enroll. The fee is $155 and checks must be received with the form.

Participants will be taught state regulations, physical restraint and transport of animals, feeding infant animals, how to do physical examinations, natural history, wound management, release criteria and professional development.

The seminar is also open to those who are interested just in learning more about wildlife rehabilitation even if they do not intend to take an exam.

“Last year’s seminars were sponsored by the Greenfield Community College science department,” Kathleen Bordewieck said. “We had amazing feedback, and everyone that has taken our course has passed the exam.”

With the long hours, hard work and no pay, Pasko said that the motivation to help comes from the heart.

“We share our world with wildlife and we need to learn how to co-exist with them,” she said. “I may not be able to solve big problems like global warming, but I can really change the world for an injured animal.”

For more information on the seminars, contact Judith Pasko at 413-695-6854 or Kathleen or Nancy Bordewieck at 413-834-5733.

Further information about becoming a wildlife rehabilitator is available online from the Wildlife Rehabilitators’ Association of Massachusetts at www.wraminc.org.

 

Wildlife rehabilitators aid injured, sick or orphaned animals WITH VIDEO.

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