When wildlife needs help
Wildlife rehabilitators come to the rescue for injured, orphaned animals
Last month, a kind friend of mine called me on a warm Saturday afternoon. She and her family were driving to Moab and had pulled off Interstate 70 for a pit stop.
There, they found an injured barn owl on the side of the road. The bird couldn’t fly and had trouble staying upright. It probably had been hit by a car. My friend wanted to help, but didn’t know what to do. I told her I could pick up the bird and get it to someone who could help it.
Who do you call when you find a wild animal in need of care? You call a wildlife rehabilitator — a member of a special breed of human, a superhero version of your common animal lover. A person who is willing to wake up every few hours throughout the night to feed orphaned baby chipmunks with a syringe or endure preventative rabies vaccinations, so they can handle a young raccoon.
Wildlife rehabilitators, better known as “rehabbers,” are volunteers who spend countless hours, and sometimes considerable amounts of their own money, caring for injured and orphaned wildlife.
They may love the animals they care for, but these animals are not their pets.
“I have to raise all wildlife babies to be wild, scared of humans, so I minimize all human contact with them, including myself. ... It is so tempting to cuddle and play with them, but I cannot allow them to become accustomed to ‘human scent/contact equals food,’ ” says Brenda Miller, a licensed wildlife rehabilitator at Roubideau Rim Wildlife Rescue in Olathe.
The goal of a rehabber is to be able to return a healthy, independent animal to the wild.
But wildlife rehabbers are more than just animal lovers. Becoming a wildlife rehabilitator requires a lot of training and a license from Colorado Parks and Wildlife.
Licensed rehabbers have training in many areas, including: wildlife nutrition; how to avoid diseases transmitted by wildlife; and how to raise orphaned wild babies without them imprinting on humans.
The training and other requirements of the wildlife rehabilitation license help ensure wild animals receive quality care and do not become a threat to the public when released. They also reduce the risk of the rehabber being injured by or catching a disease from an animal in their care.
If you find an animal that needs help, you can contact Colorado Parks and Wildlife or visit its website, cpw.state.co.us, to find contact information for licensed wildlife rehabilitators.
When my friend called about the barn owl on the side of the road, I contacted the Colorado Parks and Wildlife district wildlife manager and the nearest rehabber. I was given the number of a nearby veterinarian who could take the owl immediately and give it intravenous fluids. If it made it through the night, it would go to a wildlife rehabber in Silt.
Sadly, the owl did not make it. Most likely, it had a head injury and had sat in the sun on the side of the road for most of a day before my friend found it.
Still, it felt good to do what we could for it. After all, it was a human-related accident that injured the owl. It seems only fair that humans should try to help it.