When wildlife needs help

Wildlife rehabilitators come to the rescue for injured, orphaned animals

A young Canada Goose practices walking with a splint on its foot at the Greenwood Wildlife Rehabilitation Center in Boulder. The youngster was found with a fishhook embedded in its foot, which had caused the foot to grow deformed.



A baby badger is sleepy after a meal of warm milk. This badger and its siblings are being cared for at Roubideau Rim Wildlife Rescue in Olathe. Their den was accidentally dug up during construction of a pipeline.



Barn Owl



QUICKREAD

Helping vs. Hurting

Most people are naturally compassionate and want to help, especially when it comes to baby animals.

But sometimes our efforts to be helpful are actually harmful.

Did you know that many young birds leave the nest before they can fly? Young birds that are fully feathered and out of the nest but still dependent on mom and dad for feeding are called fledglings.

Often fledglings can only hop or flutter short distances; they won’t master flying for a few more days. This is normal, and the parents are usually nearby and returning to feed the fledgling.

The best help you can offer is to give the fledgling space and keep your cats and dogs away from it (indoors is best). Many times that “abandoned” baby animal that you find is not abandoned at all, but rather carefully hidden by its mother who is out looking for food.

If you find a young deer fawn or an elk calf that is lying quietly, leave it alone. It is not abandoned. Its mother will be back, and it needs mom (and her milk) more than it needs your “help.” Keep your pets away from it and give it space.

If the fawn or calf is wandering and crying, then something may be wrong, and it is a good idea to call Colorado Parks and Wildlife or a wildlife rehabilitator.



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.


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