As real estate development in the U.S. continues to grow, more and more wildlife are deprived of their natural habitats. The consequences of our shrinking habitat are serious: alligators are more frequent backyard visitors in Florida and deer are more common in northeastern U.S. suburbs. As humans try to deter dangerous animals from public spaces and control the populations of so-called "nuisance" species, the number of animals who have been shot, harassed, trapped, and poisoned is on the rise. Caregivers report that the majority of injured, ill, and orphaned wild animals are suffering not because of natural occurrences, but due to human intervention.
Wildlife rehabilitation involves caring for injured, sick, and orphaned wildlife so they can be released into their natural habitats. Animals are examined, diagnosed, and treated through a program that includes veterinary visits, hospital care, feeding, medication, physical therapy, exercise, and pre-release conditioning. Although some animals deemed unfit to return to the wild may be placed in education facilities, others must be euthanized—that is, put to death in a humane way.
Because fear of humans is a necessary survival trait for wild animals, every effort is made in rehabilitation shelters to minimize human contact and prevent the taming of patients. The orphaned young in particular must learn survival skills, including how to recognize and find food; how to escape predators; and how and where to make a nest, den, or burrow before they can be released back into the wild. This level of rehabilitation is best left to trained professionals.
If you find an animal in need of assistance, rehabilitators suggest that, first and foremost, you leave infant wildlife alone; a parent may in fact be nearby. Even if you are certain that the injured animal is indeed an orphan, do not attempt to treat it yourself. Instead, get the animal to a rehabilitation facility as soon as possible, as some birds need to eat every half hour. Find a cardboard box just big enough for the animal to stand and turn around in. This prevents the animal from thrashing about and hurting itself. Keep the box warm and shaded while in transit.
Here are two simple prevention strategies that may help protect wildlife from harm. First, because many injured animals are brought to the clinic with wounds from dog and cat attacks, keep pets away from wildlife. Second, educate children to respect and care for all wild creatures and their habitats.