It might be easy to think of wildlife rehabilitation as a “glamorous” job. Who wouldn’t want to take care of cute, orphaned squirrels? Or tiny, hungry raccoon kits? Photos of fuzzy, eyes-closed baby mammals being cuddled by humans pop up on social media from time to time – or maybe you’ve come across videos of spotted fawns being bottle-fed by someone. What you don’t get to see, is what we really do (or don’t do!) For instance, we don’t cuddle with wild animals, no matter how cute they are, because our job as rehabilitators is to prepare them for survival in the wild once they are released. An animal that is habituated to humans, or imprinted to them, is at greater risk of death in the wild and cannot be released.
You also don’t get to see the hard work that goes on behind the scenes. Diet preparation is not for the faint of heart, especially when it comes to preparing diets for our carnivore patients. And what goes in, must eventually come out, right? There is plenty of smelly poop to clean up multiple times a day. It is a sun-up to sun-down job. And most importantly, there are licensing and permitting laws that must be adhered to.
Friday PM Shift Leader, Claudia Benfield, writes about some of her less-than-glamorous experiences working with wildlife patients:
I wanted to write about different facets of what rehabilitating wildlife can be like…one week I was holding a baby squirrel in my hands during its examination. It was so tiny, it fit exactly in my hands. It had fly larvae in its mouth and we had to get them all out. The larvae were about the size of the head of a pin. I kept the squirrel warm in my hands while it made sweet sounds. It was so precious, my heart could have burst. (But guys. Fly larvae.)
I have fed countless baby birds. It is always so much fun when you open the door and all of their little heads pop up and they open their mouths ready to have their next meal. My favorite are the crows. They are so smart and so cute when they are young. They have such great personalities – but we must not be too friendly with them so they don’t imprint on us. But inside my heart and mind, I am bonding with them and enjoying helping them out.
Now we get to the not-so-glamorous part of this job. In the recent months we have been able to release all of the orphaned raccoons that we were caring for over the spring and summer. We had three enclosures of them and two were now empty. When this happens someone has to do the final clean up and sanitization. It just so happened that my shift was to do this clean up. I had another volunteer help me out. I would like for you to keep in mind that all of our dedicated volunteers work hard to maintain a clean environment while they are there. And still, since they are wild animals they always manage to keep their enclosures very well “lived in.”
But oh, the final clean up. It is a very nasty job. I can’t help but notice that even then, they keep their messes to one spot in the enclosure. They are clean animals in their own way but they belong in the wild for a reason. They really do need to be free where they can maintain their own homes as they like them to be. This night of clean up, there was hay everywhere, hammocks, logs and dog houses to be taken out for clean up so that the enclosure could be pressure washed later. Everything was wet and soggy. There is also a drain for the water which was all clogged up that we needed to get cleaned out. (I am sure you can imagine what was clogging the drain…) Some of it seeped into my glove as I worked to unclog it. At one point I stepped back and into the drain with my left foot and got that wet and nasty too. At that point, I really wanted to go home and get a brillo pad and shower in boiling water!
I have cleaned Bald Eagle enclosures as well; it’s a not-so-fun part of the job but it is still an honor just to be able to be in the same area as they are. So in short, yes we do get to feed and hold some very cool animals at times. But the work is hard and we must deal with some really yucky stuff. It is all worth it to us though because in the end, if we get to see them be free once again, that is what this work is all about. So this work of rehabilitating wildlife is not just for the glamour of it.
Even though it can be very hard work, it is also the most rewarding work that there is…
– Claudia Benfield, Friday PM Shift Leader