The debate about wildlife in captivity is a complicated issue that is being talked about more and more (link 1, link 2, link 3). Long term captivity is under constant scrutiny by those involved in the rehabilitation and zoo fields. Of foremost concern is the fact that animals placed in zoos via rehabilitators are in fact, wild, and unaccustomed to the challenges of long term captivity. Rehabilitators and zoo staff recognize that placement may pose significant risks to an animals long term health and mental well being. However, solutions to evaluate, monitor and resolve these risks vary and can be a source of contention. Despite this debate, we and our zoological institution colleagues have quite a bit in common, as can be demonstrated in the following Venn diagram:
To help bridge this gap, the International Wildlife Rehabilitation Council (IWRC) hosted a working group at the 2020 National Wildlife Rehabilitators Association Symposium back in February with over 30 professionals from the IWRC, United States Fish and Wildlife Service, and representatives from Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) accredited zoological institutions. The goal of this working group was to discuss our missions and how we can better work together. After all, regardless of one’s opinions on the matter of wildlife in captivity, we all have a similar goal at our very core: saving wildlife.
So, what does working together and aligning our missions look like? We’d love to hear your thoughts. While this meeting was just the tip of the iceberg, we hope we can continue to encourage the collaborative spirit for the sake of our world’s wildlife…
Animals in fires suffer from direct thermal injury as well as injuries from inhalation of chemicals and particulate debris. Certainly burns to the skin are the most obvious, but burns and damage to the respiratory tract from smoke inhalation should not be underestimated. If an animal is close enough to a fire to be burned, it has experienced respiratory injury. If wildfires involve human structures, the smoke plume may contain a mixture of concentrated toxins from incinerated plastics, petroleum products, and other chemicals. The particles can cause primary toxicity and pulmonary damage; external particles on the animal could transfer and cause problems in human handlers. Proper PPE is essential. Survivors of wildfires present with complications including dehydration, starvation, and traumatic injuries.
Most respiratory injuries and thermal burns will worsen in the 2-4 days after they are acquired. However, in some cases, it can take weeks for damage to fully manifest. Treatment is highly invasive, stressful, painful, and costly. Even with gold standard care many animals will not recover enough to be released. It is therefore necessary to have clear and rigorous triage protocols, especially when faced with large scale casualties.
Working closely with a veterinarian will be essential. Burns are painful and most cases require regulated, controlled pharmaceuticals for sedation and analgesia. In addition, debridement and wound care will need to be done under anesthesia in the initial stages. Animals suffering from smoke inhalation will need oxygen therapy, nebulization, ongoing radiographs, and other diagnostic testing. Work with your veterinarian to establish protocols for victims of wildfires before you need them. Quick evaluation, euthanasia, or stabilization will be vital for the welfare of the animal when it arrives in your facility.
Key aspects of triage and treatment for the rehabilitator.
Triage and Stabilization
Triage – “Burns covering 40-50% of the body have a high chance of mortality from sequelae (hypoproteinemia, sepsis, etc.) in domestic animals.”1
Burns may be classified as:
Superficial – Some layers of epidermis still intact
Deep – The dermis is exposed and possibly damaged
Deep burns require advanced treatment, and may not regrow hair or feathers.
Burns to the limbs, especially the pedal surfaces, which expose tendon/bone/joints or musculature are not compatible with release.
Mucous membranes – Bright, cherry red gums are indicative of carbon monoxide poisoning
Give oxygen therapy without delay.
Eyes – Conjunctivitis, due to smoke and particulates, is not uncommon. Lids and corneas may have thermal burns.
Flush the eyes with sterile aqueous drops
If you have the tools and training check for corneal ulcers.
Apply sterile ophthalmic treatments per species recommendations
No steroids should be applied
Ocular and respiratory damage may require euthanasia as a first option.
Restore Normothermia – Use room temperature isotonic crystalloids to restore normothermia in patients presenting with hyperthermia of fresh burns.
Be careful not to cause hypothermia in your patient.
Fluid Therapy – Promotes normothermia, tissue perfusion, and mitigates shock.
An IV or IO catheter may be necessary if burns cover areas used for SQ administration.
Analgesia – Immediately start species appropriate multimodal analgesia.
Oxygen therapy is the most important aspect of treating smoke inhalation.
Place the animal in an oxygen chamber.
A DIY oxygen chamber can be created quite cheaply, you can find many different plans online at various price points.
Oxygen chambers should have a thermometer and hygrometer inside to monitor and optimize temperature and humidity for your patient.
Ensure an opening for venting of carbon dioxide.
Chemical and bacterial pneumonia is common after smoke inhalation
Monitor with radiographs and/or bloodwork before, during, and after starting antibiotics.
Close confinement and respiratory distress exacerbate anxiety in a wild animal, which in turn makes those conditions even worse. Tranquilization and sedation may be necessary during treatment.
Rigorous hospital protocols must include quiet, calm, or even dark conditions with visual and auditory barriers between patients.
Once you have stabilized your patient you can begin wound management for the burns.
For Superficial burns
Clip any remaining hair. Do not remove feathers.
Lavage away soot or debris. (Several cleaning sessions may be required)
Apply a water based topical to the burn to increase moisture and prevent bacterial growth
Honey, Silver Sulfadiazine (SSD), etc.
Cover with a non-adherent (Telfa) or hydrogel bandage
For Deep burns
Consult with your veterinarian on a plan of action, anesthesia will be needed for debriding and cleaning.
In the interim apply a recommended topical to the wound and cover with a non-adherent bandage.
Be prepared for euthanasia; cleaning may reveal more damage than anticipated.
Most burns require daily bandage changes at minimum. Your veterinarian may have suggestions to decrease invasive treatments.
Monitor the burn. Remember, it may become worse over the next 2-4 days.
Maintaining cleanliness of the environment, the animal, and the ICU/container is absolutely essential. Biosecurity to protect the animal from human pathogens includes all appropriate PPE and sterile techniques where applicable.
Rehabilitation of wildfire victims takes much longer than normal rehabilitation
Likelihood for secondary problems is very high.
Pre-planning must include budgeting for greater than usual expenses and length of stay.
Superficial burns to the feet may be treatable and compatible with release, but it may take months to determine.
Singed feathers may require an entire molt cycle (up to 2 years in some species) if imping is not possible.
There may not be an appropriate release site in the aftermath of a large fire. Pre-planning should include this eventuality.
Long-term care should include options for supplemental feeding and water after release, especially if habitat is in recovery.
* This document does not replace information or recommendations from your veterinarian.
Macintire, Douglas K, et al. Manual of Small Animal Emergency and Critical Care Medicine. 2nd ed., John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2012.
If you would like more information on Fluid Therapy, Pain Management, or Wound Management consider taking the IWRC’s online courses on these subjects or read about them in Wildlife Rehabilitation: A Comprehensive Approach.
In areas affected by seasonal wildfires Covid-19 may cause even greater problems this year. In some regions Covid-19 has meant reduction or cessation of controlled burns to help mitigate fires1. Many rehabilitators are functioning with less volunteers, interns, and paid staff. This makes the need for personal preparation even more important. Use the following tips to help get yourself and/or your center ready for fire season.
Make or Review your Plan
Think through the steps to safely evacuate yourself, other people, and the wildlife in your care. If you are a home rehabber, don’t forget to include your pets/livestock.
Prioritize! Who/what needs to be evacuated first? What can you afford to leave behind?
Print out emergency protocols and review them with anyone that will be helping you in an emergency (partner, volunteers, etc.). Keep them in a binder or folder that is easily accessible.
Have emergency supplies in labeled containers that can easily be grabbed as you evacuate.This includes rehab supplies and supplies you and your family will need to survive.
Organize Emergency Information
Arrange to get emergency fire/weather alerts via phone or email.
If you use a phone tree or phone alert system for employees or volunteers make sure all numbers are up to date and people are willing/able to assist in an emergency.
Have multiple copies of licenses and permits in a fire safe, your evacuation kit, and stored digitally in the cloud.
If you lose your home or facility have a plan to transfer your patients to others.
Prepare press releases for local media to redirect rescuers to operational facilities.
Do a Facility Check
Clear brush and debris from around your facility, cut branches or limbs that overhang the roof or outdoor enclosures, ensure fire lines are clear.
Check smoke alarms and fire extinguishers.
Members can watch a webinar on fire extinguishers on the IWRC website.
Make a list of materials or equipment (i.e O2 tanks) that could be hazardous in a fire. Mark these devices on posted fire escape maps.
Ensure all equipment needed for evacuation (i.e. radios, animal carriers) is in working order.
Be prepared to shelter in place if evacuation is not required.
Know the Terrain
Know where fires are likely to come from.
Plan multiple evacuation routes.
Maintain up to date downloaded or paper maps; don’t rely on GPS/phones in an emergency.
Have a drill
Go through the motions of evacuation, simply walking through your plan will help.
Use every day experiences to prepare- know how long it takes to hook up a trailer, put together animal carriers, or catch up animals.
Adapt and improve your plan as you go (i.e. it takes too long to put carriers together? Use pillow cases instead!).
Micayla is our new behind the scenes bookkeeper. Welcome Micayla!
Please share an early/childhood experience that was pivotal to your personal relationship to wildlife.
I grew up part-time (child of divorce) on a small hobby farm in the Manitoba prairies. We had a couple horses and a few dozen head of cattle. One memory of this time that will never fade in my mind happened when I was about 10 years old. My dad gathered me up from the living room where I was reading a book and made me go outside with him. I had no idea what was going on until it was already happening. It was time I helped out with the birthing of a brand new baby calf. It was life changing.
If you were to do something else professionally, what would it be?
I am actually in the process of studying to become a Registered Nurse.
If you could be a wild animal, which would you be?
What is the thing for which you have waited in line the longest?
Front row seats to a concert.
What excites you so much that it keeps you awake the night before?
Traveling to a new location.
Describe any companion animals that you share your home and life with.
Mr. Shadow, the best boy there ever was. A wolf/lab mix that is just under five. He has a HUGE personality. Although he can be a passive aggressive old grump, he is the most loving, loyal, friendly, and funny dog in the world.
Dr. Helene Marie Van Doninck, is remembered by friends and colleagues as a dedicated, passionate and determined veterinarian, and also as a positive and effective force on behalf of wildlife. She co-founded the Cobequid Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre (CWRC) outside Truro Nova Scotia in 2001. She worked tirelessly to eradicate lead ammunition and tackle for hunting and angling purposes and won support from all sides. Her sense of humor, depth of knowledge, and understanding of people gained her entry to circles that could be otherwise unwelcoming to a veterinarian and avid wildlife rehabilitator, proposing change. Helene’s veterinary and scientific knowledge regarding lead toxicity and the effects on wildlife (especially eagles), persuaded people to make lifestyle changes. Her friendly, non-threatening demeanor when presenting the information, gained their trust as willing partners to protect wildlife and human beings. Her tireless efforts have created an awareness within the hunting and angler community about the dangers of lead ammunition and tackle that was virtually non-existent until she began her work to eradicate them.
The wildlife rehabilitation community has come together to remember Helene by creating and contributing to a fund which supports public education. IWRC is pleased to manage this fund on behalf of the larger community.
Purpose of Scholarship: To support attendance at conferences or other opportunities in order to learn or present on an aspect of public education as related to wildlife rehabilitation
Funded by: Donations from the community
Application Cycle: Annual. Open June 1 – August 31st. Awardee(s) announced at IWRC’s Annual Membership Meeting.
Award Amount: $50-300
Application Review: A panel of 2 board members, 2 staff members, and 1 community member will convene each Autumn to review applications and select the awardee.
This year is anything but normal. IWRC staff and governance feels that providing support for public outreach is especially needed. You may not be able to attend a physical event, but public outreach goes far beyond the standard conference.
The National Wildlife Rehabilitators Association (NWRA) and The International Wildlife Rehabilitation Council (IWRC) find that taxa-specific protocols, based on scientific evidence and region-specific risk assessments, should serve as the basis for an informed approach to managing the risk of disease spread and for formulating any restrictions on wildlife rehabilitation.
“Wildlife rehabilitation plays an important role in managing human-wildlife interactions. This management, which includes appropriate human and animal health monitoring, becomes more important during a global pandemic like COVID-19” states IWRC executive director Kai Williams.
The IWRC and NWRA are international not-for-profit organizations based in the United States, with memberships extending to Canada, Mexico, Central and South America, United Kingdom, Europe, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, and India. Our 2,000+ members include wildlife veterinarians and rehabilitators, wildlife biologists, animal behaviorists, government officials, and academicians from institutions across the world. Our members provide expertise in wildlife conservation and welfare, often at the forefront of where humans and wild animals interact.
The IWRC is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that protects wildlife through training and resources on wildlife rehabilitation. The organization’s mission statement “We provide evidence-based education and resources on wildlife rehabilitation to move the field of wildlife rehabilitation forward; to promote wildlife conservation and welfare; and to mitigate human-wildlife conflicts worldwide, through better understanding of wild animal ecology, behavior, and welfare.” Wildlife rehabilitation is the act of providing temporary care for injured, sick or orphaned wildlife with the goal of releasing them back into the wild. By providing unique insights into issues affecting wildlife populations, species, and habitats, wildlife rehabilitation contributes to wildlife conservation and welfare worldwide.
National Wildlife Rehabilitation Association
The NWRA was born in 1982 at the first National Wildlife Rehabilitators Association Symposium in Naperville, Illinois. The rich diversity of expertise and interest represented at the symposium provided a firm foundation for a national organization designed to meet the needs of wildlife rehabilitators. As the mission statement says , NWRA is “dedicated to improving and promoting the profession of wildlife rehabilitation and its contributions to preserving natural ecosystems.”
Did you know that May is Mental Health Awareness Month?
We here at the IWRC have recently put forth a few resources promoting mental health in wildlife rehabilitation, such as our blog post on Self-Caring During COVID-19 and our Going Home Checklist. As we can all imagine, due to the emotion, long hours, and stress placed on us (especially during the intense spring and summer hours), the importance of mental health cannot be overstated…. but what is mental health? How does our work impact our mental health? What can we do about this?
What is mental health?
1 in 5 adults experiences mental health issues1. Even if they don’t affect you personally, they likely affect someone you know!
Myth: I can’t help someone else get over their mental health issues. Busted: One’s social networks are perhaps the most valuable in helping them get through a difficult time. Friends and colleagues can not only show their support for those impacted but also help them find the help that they need.
Myth: Mental health issues cannot be prevented. Busted: As we rehabbers know with our own patients, prevention is far easier than treatment (though in our case, both are feasible!). Knowing one’s risks and limits can help manage our mental wellbeing.
Mental wellbeing impacts from our work
Traumatic events. We see a lot during our work as rehabilitators. Whether the animal was hit by a car, torn apart by a cat, or shot, it can be traumatic – both for the patient and for us. On a near-daily basis, we witness suffering and animals in duress.
Stressful life situations (financials, loved one’s death, divorce, ongoing medical conditions). As most of our work comes out of pocket – or relying solely on donations (surviving donation-by-donation), it can be very stressful to wonder if we can afford our next batch of mealworms.
Dealing with stressed, angered, or scared members of the public.
Advanced level of multitasking and triage (answering phone calls, feeding wildlife, etc)
Balancing relationships. Spring and Summer hours are long and seemingly never-ending… this can make personal relationships difficult to find and maintain.
Maintain positive mental health
1. Seek professional help. There should be no shame in asking for help. As we rehabbers know, we can’t do it all! It is more than OK to ask for help.
2. Connect with your social network. This doesn’t just mean Facebook. Reach out to your friends, family, coworkers, and colleagues. In fact, studies show that those who engage in regular social interactions with others are less likely to be depressed2. We’re in this together and you are not alone.
3. Help others. Well…. we probably have this pretty well covered in our daily work as rehabilitators but this is a great reminder ;)….
4. Sleep. What is sleep? We know those baby hummers need feeding every 20 minutes, but luckily we know that their parents do indeed get sleep – so we can too! The National Sleep Foundation’s recent studies show that most adults need 7-9 hours of sleep each night3. Though it may not always be possible, it is a good goal to aim for! Don’t forget, we also make fewer mistakes when well-rested4.
5. Develop coping skills. We all go through rough, really rough days… It is OK to feel emotion about what we do, and it is OK to take a second to step outside, go for a run, or find a useful technique to deal with a difficult or stressful event5.
6. Get or stay active. Physical and mental health go hand-in-hand. Staying physically active can help you maintain your mental wellbeing
Most importantly, please remember how awesome you are and the significant difference you make on wildlife’s lives each and every day. Stay healthy. Stay well!
Online learning is increasingly viewed as a valuable platform that offers tools not available in a traditional classroom setting. The IWRC strives to make our courses as accessible as possible, while constantly improving their quality. Throughout the remainder of 2020, we will be releasing new and revamped online courses that take advantage of the technological benefits of virtual learning.
This new generation of IWRC online courses will utilize the classic digital lecture style of our previous classes, and make them more interactive. We are adding knowledge reinforcing activities and tools, including knowledge checks, flashcards and other activities, as well as closed captions, to ensure students are getting the most from their learning experience. Our classes will employ different types of media such as pictures, audio, text, and video, to cater to a wider spectrum of learning styles. We hope that our students will enjoy not only a broader range of courses available from the convenience of their homes, but also an enhanced educational experience.
The IWRC’s online classes do not seek to recreate or replace in-person courses but give you a different educational experience with the same learning outcomes. To allow students the opportunity to practice procedures traditionally taught through IWRC labs, we are creating virtual labs in partnership with Folkmanis Puppets. When completing a class with a lab, you will learn procedures and then upload videos of yourself completing these assignments. Your videos will then receive feedback and evaluation. For those without access to supplies or cadavers, lab kits can be purchased along with a class. In these kits we include the materials needed for your lab including a realistic and carefully crafted Folkmanis animal puppet on which to practice. In this way, our online classes will allow all the benefits of online learning without sacrificing the important experience you gain through a lab.
These new classes also come at an opportune moment — during the self-isolation and social distancing necessitated by the COVID-19 virus. While the global pandemic certainly lit a fire under our tails in terms of getting these courses ready for release, they have also been a long time coming. The development of these online courses began in 2018. Now these classes are being rewritten with up-to-date information, are being peer-reviewed by experts, and remodeled with current technologies/resources. You will find that our new courses, although timely, were not rushed to release, and are our best quality online learning resources to date! While we are committed to rolling out these new courses to meet the increasing need, we are still searching for funding to support this accelerated launch. Remember that donations, no matter the size, help us to grow and innovate!
Although we cannot promise exact dates, we will be releasing Wound Management with the bandaging laboratory this spring/early summer. Next, we will introduce our new Parasitology course (also available in-person at a later date), Fluid Therapy, and Pain Management! Directly following their release, the price of each course will be generously marked down. For students that recently took an older version of these courses, you can expect an additional discount as well!
Please stay tuned for more information on future online releases— we have some other projects in the works that we think you will love! The IWRC is committed to growing and improving our educational resources to push the field of wildlife rehabilitation forward. We hope you enjoy our growing curriculum!
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