It’s almost “fall” here in Southeast Texas, so baby season (with the exception of the second round of baby squirrels) is slowly coming to an end, and it’s been a long haul. Babies start coming in as early as January, and with the continued rapid development in the area we serve, there is never any shortage of animals that are injured, orphaned, or abandoned which need of the assistance of a wildlife rehabilitator. Unfortunately, with each passing year, it seems that there are fewer and fewer rehabbers to care for them.
In theory, lots of people say they would love to be a wildlife rehabilitator. However, the process to do so both legally and correctly requires a lot of time, effort, and expense. First, let’s look at the legalities involved; in Texas, as in most other states, wildlife rehabilitators need to have specific training and to be permitted by Texas Parks and Wildlife and/or U.S. Fish and Wildlife, depending on the species of animals cared for. Pretty much any animal with fur or scales is covered under a state permit; almost all songbirds and birds of prey would be covered under a federal permit. At a minimum, it takes a person two years to go through the permitting process with the state; the process with U.S. Fish and Wildlife takes at least that long. In order to obtain a permit, an applicant must prove that they have adequate training and have taken approved instructional classes. Additionally, letters of recommendation from a mentor (with a minimum of two years of having known the applicant) are required. That in of itself it quite a commitment to take on by a person wishing to obtain a permit.
With regards to training, there really isn’t any school to enroll in to learn. Most, if not all, wildlife rehabilitators basically learn through being mentored by other rehabbers, or by volunteering and learning at a wildlife rehabilitation center. In addition to this hands-on training, potential rehabbers also need to take any number of approved online or in-person training classes. This is to assure that rehabbers not only have a basic understanding of triage/first aid, continuing supporting or medical care, nutrition, caging requirements, etc., but also to familiarize them with the national and/or international rehabilitation organizations they can access for continued guidance, reference, and education. With regards to potentially working with a veterinarian, the truth is that most vet clinics do not deal with wildlife, nor do many veterinarians have hands-on experience with wild animals. Many prefer to not have wildlife at their clinics due to the risks of cross-contamination between wildlife and domestic animals. This is another reason why individual wildlife rehabbers and wildlife rehabilitation centers are so vital to the community; they are often the only source of help for wildlife animals in need.
Another limiting factor is the time and expense involved in rehabbing. Unless one is exceedingly lucky, there are very few paid positions in the wildlife rehab world. That means that probably 99% of rehabbers throughout the county are UNPAID VOLUNTEERS. In addition to being unpaid for the services they provide most rehabbers bear the expenses of caring for the animals they take in out of their own pockets. This would include vet care; species-specific formulas and food; and medications or vaccinations; caging needs through release; not to mention cleaning supplies (all those paper towels, bleach, disinfectants, and laundry detergent expenses really add up!). Fortunately, working with a group can often help to somewhat offset these expenses, as most groups of rehabbers and/or rehab centers are set up as non-profits in order to accept donations. The time constraints are a lot to consider as well; in our part of Texas, our “busy time” (baby season) runs from January through October most years. On top of that, animals get hurt or displaced year-round, and we are also right in the migratory path for many songbirds and birds of prey, so that ramps up care for them during the cooler months. Rehabbing needs are 365 days a year, 24 hours a day.
Wildlife emergencies don’t take a holiday, they don’t take a vacation, they have no respect for bedtimes, mealtimes, birthdays, anniversaries…well, you get the picture. Rehabber burn out is a huge problem. Even the most caring, giving, empathetic person has their limits.
So, now that we’ve made it sound soooooo appealing, who wants to sign up? All joking aside, there is a real need for additional rehabbers in our area, and a person doesn’t necessarily have to be “all in” in order to help. The one huge benefit to working in conjunction with a group such as Friends of Texas Wildlife is the support network. Having the support and back up of fellow rehabbers is huge. Working with a group also provides more varied options. For instance, an independent rehabber would most likely care for an animal from intake through release. However, by working with a group, one could help with just one “stage” of animal care, such as handfeeding nestling baby birds until they are ready for flight caging, or syringe feeding baby squirrels or opossums until they can self feed, and then pass them on to other rehabbers. Some of our rehabbers live on property and have room for outside caging, so they may only take animals at this stage for pre-release caging (many of these people work full time, so they cannot commit to bottle feeding babies, but they can help by providing the pre-release caging since these animals generally only get fed once a day). Some of our rehabbers only help with one specific species, so their efforts are more seasonal (for instance, most spring baby squirrels need bottle feeding for a few weeks in the early spring, so by summer vacation time, they are long gone). Although baby birds are quite labor intensive while they need care due to the need for frequent feedings, they are a short-term commitment as most of them can self feed by the time they are 3-4 weeks old. The other nice thing is that we can sub-permit a person while they learn, which makes everything legal with regards to animal care, but also enables anyone interested to be hands-on while they learn, and also to give them the time and support they need to decide if rehabbing is really for them before they invest a lot of time, money, and energy only to find out it’s a bit more of a commitment than they can take on.
If you’ve ever thought you’d like to become a wildlife rehabilitator, and now knowing a little more of what is involved, please reach out to us or whatever wildlife group or individual rehabber is closest to you. There is a huge need, and as the old saying goes, many hands make light work. Each new rehabber helps to take the burden off others, and any help is both greatly needed and much appreciated. We have monthly new-volunteer orientations at our center, so if you’d like to learn about rehabbing or volunteering in other capacities, please email us at [email protected]. Additionally, Friends will be hosting an IWRC (International Wildlife Rehabilitation Council) Basic Wildlife Rehabilitation class on January 22-23, 2022 (1/22 8 am to 6 pm; 1/23 8 am to 4 pm). For anyone sincerely interested in getting permitted, or anyone already in the process, this two-day course satisfies the TPWD course requirement for first-time permittees. This class is only offered once or twice a year in our area, and class size will be limited to 25 people. We will post a sign-up link on our website and Facebook page as the date approaches.
To learn more about what we do and view pictures of many of the animals we assist, please visit our Facebook page at www.facebook.com/SavingTexasWildlife. Details and specifies-specific flowcharts regarding how to help found animals can be found on our website www.ftwl.org (click on “Help and Advice”). These charts are extremely helpful to determine if an animal truly needs rescuing or not. If you need assistance with a wildlife animal you may have found, please call us at 281-259-0039 or email us at [email protected]. Our educational programs (including camps, birthday parties, educational presentations, and Second Saturdays) have resumed. Our educational visitor’s center is open the second Saturday of each month from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., located at 29816 Dobbin Hufsmith Road, Magnolia, Texas, so the next date is Saturday, September 11 ($5 per person, kids 3 and under are free). In addition, save the date for our big OPEN HOUSE on Saturday, October 9. This Open House will be like the Super Bowl of Second Saturdays! In addition to our education center, we offer tours of our main intake and animal-care facility (generally these areas are closed to the public) as well as other fun activities, and all our wildlife animal ambassadors (hawks, owls, turtles, snake, opossums, skunk) will be on site for you to meet and greet.