Wildlife rehabilitators provide treatment and care to injured native species until they are healthy enough to be released back into the wild. Positions in this field are available both on a volunteer and salaried basis.
Wildlife Rehabilitator Duties
The primary duty of a wildlife rehabilitator is to examine injured wildlife and provide medical care and therapy to help them recover to the point at which they can be released. They determine whether an injury will require consultation from a veterinarian, and are responsible for seeking veterinary treatment for those animals requiring advanced care.
The wildlife rehabilitator should have a good working knowledge of wound management, fluid administration, the nutritional needs of various species, and humane restraint and capture techniques. They are responsible for feeding, cleaning cages, and providing a safe environment for the animal. In many cases, rehabilitators raise orphaned young animals to maturity.
Depending on their geographic location, rehabilitators may work with many species including deer, raccoons, woodpeckers, eagles, hawks, pelicans, herons, turtles, snakes, seals, hummingbirds, ducks, owls, bats, frogs, ferrets, geese, and swans.
Additional duties include keeping detailed records on each animal, supervising volunteers or interns, conducting fundraising campaigns, answering phone calls from people who have found wildlife in distress, and providing educational demonstrations to the public.
Wildlife rehabilitators can work for various governmental agencies, nonprofit groups, zoos, and humane societies. They may also have another primary occupation, working as a veterinarian, veterinary technician, zoologist, or biologist.
Some rehabilitators choose to specialize in working with specific types of animals, such as birds of prey, small mammals, reptiles, or amphibians. Most gain experience with a wide variety of species before focusing on their specific area of interest.
Some rehabilitators are involved with specialized emergency response teams that travel to areas where animals are in distress. The areas to which they are dispatched often include locations affected by oil spills, hurricanes, or wildfires.
Training and Licensing
Wildlife rehabilitators must be licensed by the state and federal government to work in the field. There are many rules governing the care and capture of wildlife. You will need to get in touch with the appropriate agency to obtain the necessary permits. The best place to start seeking advice on the permit issue is generally the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Many wildlife rehabilitators have a degree in biology, animal behavior, animal science, or zoology, though a college degree is not required to work in this field. They also usually initially intern with an experienced wildlife rehabilitator to gain a good foundation of hands-on experience. Volunteering with a wildlife veterinarian or at a large wildlife rehabilitation facility is also a great way to learn.
The National Wildlife Rehabilitators Association (NWRA) puts on the largest wildlife rehabilitation symposium in North America, boasting approximately 500 attendees each year. The organization also puts out a number of wildlife-related publications such as newsletters, magazines, membership directories, and reference books. Membership is $55, though students may join for $35. Family and lifetime memberships are also available.
The International Wildlife Rehabilitation Council (IWRC) offers professional certification to those who pass the Certified Wildlife Rehabilitator (CWR) exam. Recertification is required every two years and is achieved through continuing education credits at seminars, conferences, and training classes. The fee is $115 for the initial exam and $40 for a renewal. While membership in the IWRC is not required to take their certification exam, you can become a member for $30 annually to receive the Journal of Wildlife Rehabilitation and other benefits. Family and organization memberships are also available.
Many wildlife rehabilitators work from home and receive little or no financial compensation. Volunteer positions with nonprofit organizations are also common.
For wildlife rehabilitators that are employed by an organization, salary is usually in the $25,000 to $35,000 range. Those who work in this field are frequently quoted as saying they are not in it for the money; they find the job itself to be particularly rewarding.
Wildlife rehabilitation managers or directors can earn significantly higher salaries, with SimplyHired.com citing an average salary of $50,000. Salary can vary widely based on years of experience, specific rehabilitation skills, and geographic location.
Wildlife rehabilitation is one of the more recently established animal career options and has expanded to include more paying positions in recent years. According to the NWRA surveys, demand for wildlife rehabilitation services has steadily increased throughout the years and is expected to continue to grow.