The IWRC has seen many presidents in the last 40 years, all with their unique perspectives, well-established reputations and drive to pursue the organization’s mission of providing education and resources to support the field of wildlife rehabilitation.
I have some very big shoes to fill as the president. I remember being brought on the board in 2008 as the youngest board member at the time to represent new rehabilitators to the field. This opportunity was challenging but allowed me access to a network of experienced wildlife rehabilitators, which would prove to be invaluable and have a great influence in the care and protocols I established for the birds we admit to Le Nichoir.
Even after being in this field for over 10 years (not long compared to some of our members!) as both a rehabilitator and wildlife biologist I still consider myself a novice. There is always more to learn; whether you are new to the field, or have been practicing for a very long time, we are constantly learning new information and changing accordingly. Our passion for wildlife drives us to learn more, to improve our work and to teach others what we know. The ultimate result is to offer wildlife casualties a more humane, appropriate form of care that means we will be releasing better prepared, more viable animals back into the wild and we will be confident that our job was well done.
Projects such as the revision of courses including Basic Wildlife Rehabilitation, developing new resources and increasing networking among individuals in the field are just some of ways IWRC is supporting its members and contributing to the bigger picture of wildlife conservation.
IWRC is the international hub of wildlife rehabilitation, and I look forward to continuing to work hard, contribute to these projects, and represent the IWRC the best that I can so that we can increase our visibility and continue to support rehabilitators worldwide.
The board and I are always available to you to help you in any way that we can. Do not hesitate to contact us through the office at 866.871.1869 and visit our bios on our website www.theiwrc.org
White-nose syndrome (WNS), a fungal pathogen caused by Pseudogymnoascus (formerly Geomyces) destructans, was first identified in 2006, and has since been associated with the deaths of over 6 million bats here in North America. This devastating fungal infection may be present even when no obvious signs are seen. Therefore, we as rehabbers must be aware of any potential infection and act accordingly with isolation and care to prevent the build up or spreading of the fungal spores within our facilities. The U.S. Geological Survey's National Wildlife Health Center has tested the use of UV light to detect WNS in bats. The good news is that by simply evaluating the bat using a UV light, nearly 99% of WNS cases were detected, and 100% of bats that tested negative, were indeed, negative for the disease. 1 That means that we can use this tool with confidence as we admit bats to our care.
Buy an appropriate UV light. I checked and there are suitable models ranging from about $20 to several hundred dollars on Amazon. Be sure that the unit you buy works at the required light range of 385nm. Use this in a darkened area and explore all surfaces of the bat for signs of orange-yellow fluorescence indicating microscopic lesions associate with WNS as seen in the following photo.
If you have a positive result, your bat care should include isolation and appropriate cleaning to ensure you do not have a build up of these spores. The https://www.whitenosesyndrome.org/ website has a decontamination section which offers some great information, however, your standard cleaning agents may also be effective against fungal spores. So simply check the Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) for your cleaning agent’s range of action.
So in summary, this fungus is extremely widespread and any bat admitted, especially during the winter months, may be contaminated with microscopic lesions, which means every bat should be screened for WNS. Many of these bats are now members of shrinking populations and each animal represents an increasing percentage of the gene pool of that species, so we as rehabbers must do the very best for these animals as individuals. Also get to know your local researchers and become involved in the monitoring of the local bats. You will be able to bring your skills to the team and help when impacted animals require professional care. Finally, buy a UV light so you can simply screen your patients, not just on intake, but during the period of their care to ensure that if there are indeed developing lesions, you can act promptly, reducing any build-up of spores, and preventing it’s spread to others in your care. This is a great new tool for the rehabbers kit.
Reference: 1Gregory G. Turner, Carol Uphoff Meteyer, Hazel Barton, John F. Gumbs, DeeAnn M. Reeder, Barrie Overton, Hana Bandouchova, Tomáš Bartonička, Natália Martínková, Jiri Pikula, Jan Zukal, David S. Blehert. Nonlethal Screening of Bat-Wing Skin With the Use of Ultraviolet Fluorescence to Detect Lesions Indicative of White-Nose Syndrome. Journal of Wildlife Diseases, 2014; 140522114529005 DOI: 10.7589/2014-03-058
The rescuers of a mourning dove they found under a chair on their back porch approach a wildlife center. They are initially skeptical of the standards of the facility after observing that the building is an old mobile home and the outdoor caging looks homemade. However, the rescuers are pleased when they enter – the facility appears tidy and smells clean. They are greeted by a volunteer who is entering information on a well-kept log, and another volunteer busily mopping the hall in front of a closed door marked “Infirmary.” The volunteer at the desk puts on gloves and takes the bird into a room adjoining the lobby marked “Intake: Rehabilitators Only,” notifying a woman donning a lab coat that a new patient has arrived.
In another location, a rescuer confidently takes a nest of baby squirrels into a building that looks like a veterinary clinic with a large "Wildlife Rehabilitation Center" sign. She is not greeted, so she calls for attention down a dark hall. The building smells of animal waste. A volunteer appears from a room containing several animals in cages, eating a sandwich. There are what appear to be feces on her sleeve, and her shoes are caked in mud. The volunteer puts the squirrels in a box and puts them in a closet with other boxes, and asks the rescuer to fill out a form that looks to be smeared with blood stains before shutting the door behind her.
While these examples may seem like a lesson in first impressions, the purpose is anything but. Busy wildlife rehabilitators often rely on support volunteers to perform “busy work,” such as cleaning cages, sweeping, mopping, and doing the laundry. However, these activities are just as important as delivering medical care to wildlife patients. A healthy wildlife rehabilitation facility is not characterized by the structure of the workplace. In fact, it is a comprehensive zoonoses prevention plan that deserves more than relegating tasks to volunteers.
Zoonoses are infections that pass from animals to humans. A majority of existing zoonotic infections are associated with domestic animals (pets, farm animals, etc.) and are well-known, predictable, and curable. However, zoonoses associated with wildlife can be vague in presentation and life-threatening. Prevention of zoonotic disease consists of measures taken to reduce the risk of transmission of disease.
Personal habits eliminate or provide a barrier against zoonoses, including hand washing and use of personal protective equipment (PPE) such as gloves, gowns, masks, and special clothing. It is important to remove PPE after use to prevent them from becoming fomites (inanimate objects that harbor a pathogen, only to be transmitted to a person who touches the item later). Take gloves off immediately after touching an animal to avoid transmitting pathogens from the gloves to other objects. Remove outer clothing (such as lab coats or shoes) after caring for an animal or its environment and wash them separately from other clothing. Because of the large number of pathogens that can be spread through the fecal-oral route of transmission, human food and beverages must be stored and consumed in an area away from the animal care areas.
The process of cleaning and disinfecting removes zoonotic pathogens from the environment. Cleaning is the most basic step. It involves removal of trash and debris from the area (“tidying”), changing soiled bedding and caging, dirt or contaminants from surfaces, and washing food and secretions from feeding utensils (including syringes and feeding tubes).
Disinfecting is a chemical method to eliminate pathogens from objects. Disinfecting must always be preceded by cleaning because most chemicals are inactivated by organic material. Disinfection is complete once the surface has been thoroughly air-dried.
Similar to the fact that there is not a single medication that cures every illness, there is not a single disinfectant that eradicates every pathogen. Selecting a product for disinfecting is not easy. Consulting veterinary practices for advice is as necessary a component for managing the physical environment as is assuring animal treatment protocols are correct.
Cleaning occurs on a frequent basis to prevent zoonotic diseases from gaining a hold on the care environment. However, disinfecting is done based on the area or item. For instance, feeding utensils can be cleaned between uses on the same animal, but must be disinfected after the last use of the day. Caging may be cleaned daily, but disinfection is required when the enclosure is heavily contaminated or after the occupant is moved out of the cage. Despite having the best intentions and practice, humans can spread pathogens during daily activities in the rehabilitation center. Using disinfectants to mop floors on a daily basis greatly reduces this risk.
So, just as a wildlife rehabilitator would never neglect the care of an animal, never neglect the care of the workplace. The prevention of zoonoses is rooted in the cleaning and disinfecting of the facilities and equipment of the wildlife rehabilitation center. Consistent application of the steps of a comprehensive zoonoses prevention process supports the overall mission of wildlife rehabilitation. At the same time, this purposeful work by dedicated support volunteers provides a great first impression for rescuers who bring in the patients.
This month, we delve into the topic of preparedness during a disaster, seen here in our blog entry last week. This week, we sat down with our board member and Treasurer, Mike Davidson to talk about financial preparedness in an event of an emergency. Mike is a senior auditor with Isler CPA, the IWRC's accounting firm, and has experience in not-for-profit and financial institution audits, review of internal control and policy, and a strong knowledge in bookkeeping and review.
What are some financial advice you can give to non-profit organizations in case of a disaster?
Well, the most obvious is to have some form of back-up available. For example, if you are using QuickBooks Online (an online accounting software), it needs to be backed up. They do that pretty much already since it's online and everything is cloud-based and off-site. If your location gets hit by a meteor, your organization will be fine, from a financial perspective.
With changes in the economy, you also need to have some form of reserve, savings, or unrestricted asset (whether cash or donation) that does not have a specific restriction on it by the donor for a specific purpose. That's a big deal. Basically, having a plan is the most obvious way to go about it. It's always best to think ahead in the future and not plan for next week. A good budget process helps in that, because you're essentially saying, "We have a limited amount of assets and resources, so how do we spend these resources wisely?"
Are these financial steps different from what for-profit corporations would do?
There are similarities, but in the corporate world, the focus is based more on product lines and how these divisions will be affected by changes in the market. In the event of a disaster, some areas get affected but some others don't. But in non-profit organizations, what is the overall community's opinion towards giving? That's one thing to be prepared for. While corporations are thinking about how their customers and products might be affected, the non-profit organization is more concerned about the community based in the particular industry: who will still support this cause?
What kind of information do you need to gather from donors when they donate?
Besides basic biographical information, tax information is needed too for tax deduction purposes. The most important thing is to understand if the donor has placed any restrictions on the donation. At the end of the year, we need to disclose big restrictions on our funds; money that can only be spent on a certain cause, and if you don't, the donor has the right to take their money back. It's important to track donations – what's given and restricted and to ensure it matches accordingly to our expenses.
During the end of the year, what does a non-profit organization need to do financially?
When you're closing down your year, it involves a review of your transactions, balance sheets, income statements and asking yourself, "Are we complete?" Transactions such as invoices and bills that should have been recorded the previous year but have been received in the current year record an accrual.
The next question is if we are ready to present the statements to the board and to answer questions they might have. The board will be interested in the net position of the organization, which basically means how financially well-off are we? We can see right away how we're doing in comparison to last year and that helps to make decisions in the next year, be it understanding our givers and changing what we're doing to be able to make our community donate more to our cause.
A fire incident that occurred on the afternoon of August 7 near Spencer Butte, Eugene, Oregon caused a gutted house, several burnt vehicles and charred trees. Fortunately, no one was injured in the fire and firefighters managed to prevent the fire from spreading. Located northeast of Spencer’s Butte, Cascades Raptor Center (CRC) decided to execute their evacuation plan the moment Executive Director Louise Shimmel saw a billowing plume of smoke a quarter mile away from the center.
How important is it to have a disaster preparedness plan?
"Extremely important," said Shimmel. CRC's detailed emergency action plan was put together by a graduate student at the University of Oregon who had past work experience with Red Cross. The Eugene Fire Department also inspected the center and gave their feedback, such as regulating parking spaces onsite for emergency vehicles and installing a staging area for staff and volunteers to meet and decide the next course of action during an emergency. According to Lane County's Fire Safety Standards for Roads and Driveways, driveways should be at least 20 feet wide to allow access for fire fighting vehicles and turnaround as well, which CRC already has.
"In general consideration of state fire prevention guidelines, there were some things we could do and others we could not. We try to maintain a 13-foot high ceiling for fire trucks to get in but we don't have a 30-foot perimeter around the buildings," Shimmel said. "We want a comfortable habitat here for birds but that puts us more at risk.
As part of implementing the action plan, CRC's volunteers helped build an emergency shed (generously funded by one of their volunteers) that stored supplies such as walkie-talkies and collapsible carriers for animals; marked drawers containing vital information and set up a backup procedure for their computers. Quarterly assessment checks on all batteries were carried out as well.
"It's kind of hard to do a fire drill when you know that it isn't real. But in this case, it was real," Shimmel explained.
On the day of the fire, there were only eight people at the center; after activating the phone tree, another 19 volunteers and staff were there within 20 minutes to help with the evacuation. CRC’s Education Director, Kit Lacy, directed the evacuation plan: sprinklers on the side of the property toward the fire were turned on; with some 100 birds on site, dozens of carriers and transport boxes were put together and set up with towels and with sheets to cover them; any equipment with gasoline and any combustible items like oxygen tanks were moved away from the buildings; critical file and medical supply drawers were emptied, packed, and loaded into vehicles; computers were backed up.
Shimmel was grateful for the efficient fire and police response during the incident, and particularly their understanding and support of the magnitude of CRC’s evacuation requirements. Some of the roads leading to the butte were blocked to prevent traffic from entering, but police allowed responding volunteers through. A police officer was stationed near the driveway to CRC, keeping staff and volunteers in contact with the fire response effort. Just as volunteers were about to start loading birds into carriers, the police officer informed them the fire was contained, and staff decided to stand down. From start of activating the phone tree to the finish of putting away all the carriers, files, equipment, the whole exercise took about two hours. Staff had previously estimated – though without a fire drill to be sure – that it would take about two hours to get everybody ready to leave, depending on how many birds were on site and how many staff and volunteers were here to assist.”
What could have been done differently?
"Part of our plan is to, if necessary, simply release any flighted bird. When it came down to contemplating that, it’s clear that we would need to install release hatches on bird cages, instead of opening the doors and expecting them to fly down from 20 feet to 8 feet and then fly out," Shimmel said.
What should all wildlife centers have in place?
Shimmel stressed the importance of a disaster preparedness plan for other situations (not merely fires) and having supplies set aside for emergencies – supplies that are not for daily use, but only for emergencies, even though that requires duplication. Regular checks should be done on batteries for electrical equipment such as walkie-talkies. A reciprocal agreement with other rehabilitation centers within the same area should be planned in case animals need to be held at another shelter if the center is not safe or has been damaged. Smoke detectors should be installed in all buildings along with frequent checks on the batteries.
The next imperative step is to have designated organization staff that are aware of the emergency plan and who know how to initiate it during an emergency. "We have staff here all the time along with volunteers, so they will know our plans and how to put it in action," Shimmel said. Prevention is always better than cure – she contacts the non-emergency police and fire dispatch whenever she or anyone from CRC hears sirens nearby or a helicopter in the area, just to make sure it is not a hazardous incident that will affect the center.
At the end of the day, Shimmel was thankful that the fire did not affect the center directly and that the preparedness plan worked out despite not testing it out previously – post-event evaluations collected from everyone who assisted have also led to some good suggestions on how to improve the plan. "We had a good crew here who knew what to do. Everyone was so shaky afterwards. Adrenaline is tough," she said. "It was, in the end, a good experience."
Melissa Hart’s Wild Within is an engaging text that loosely intertwines the stories of her work with Cascades Raptor Center and her quest for an adopted child. Melissa sneaks in snippets of natural history and wildlife rehabilitation ethics, bringing this little known profession to a popular audience. The text provides a new volunteer’s view of wildlife rehabilitation, making it a valuable read for the seasoned professional as well as the general public.
One section which mentioned a volunteer storing human food in the carcass freezer, never a good idea. But overall the book portrays wildlife rehabilitation responsibly; an expert author’s skills applied to the passion of wildlife rehabilitation, penning the successes and failures of this emerging field in wildlife conservation.
What's your favorite wildlife rehabilitation memoir?
As August 30 is Frankenstein Day, we thought of an animal that checks all the boxes for being unorthodox and nature's most unique specimen – the platypus (Ornithorhynchus anatinus).
The platypus is a monotreme and one of the two that are only found in Australia, the other being the short-beaked echidna. The platypus has water-repellent fur, webbed feet and a leathery bill similar to a duck's. They are difficult to observe in the wild because of their aquatic and nocturnal nature. Platypuses hunt underwater and are bottom feeders. Hence, one of their biggest threats is pollution and rubbish clogging the waterways especially in urban areas.
According to Australia Zoo Wildlife Hospital veterinarian Dr. Claude Lacasse, wildlife rehabilitators in Australia require a specialized permit with appropriate training and facilities to rehabilitate platypus. Because they are heat-sensitive and have a low body temperature, they do not thrive in temperatures higher than 30°C/86°F.
Platypuses can get very stressed in care because of their shy nature. They tend to expend their energy looking for means to escape in captivity. A quiet and stress-free environment with minimal disturbances is needed to ensure they do not experience complications from stress. Platypuses do not bite as they have no teeth, but adult males have venomous spurs on their hind legs, which can cause severe pain in humans that even powerful pain relief medications cannot alleviate. However, infant and juvenile platypus are generally easier to handle and can be managed similarly to other mammal species.
According to Dr. Paul Eden, senior veterinarian at Healesville Sanctuary in Zoos Victoria, platypuses can be picky eaters as they rely on their ability to sense electrical activities from their food items in order to locate food. Water access is provided to platypuses in rehabilitation for them to perform their natural behaviors of swimming and food foraging. This also aids them to groom and maintain the health of their coat themselves.
Dr. Lacasse points out that Australia Zoo Wildlife Hospital usually receives only 4-5 platypuses in a year, mostly when the young disperse from their maternal burrows and hunt by themselves. The hospital rehabilitates young platypuses that become anemic and weak because of ticks. According to Dr. Lacasse, sometimes the platypuses are too far gone for rehabilitation, but anti-parasitics, vitamins and good nutrition strengthens them enough to be released eventually. In Healesville Sanctuary, an average of 2-4 platypuses are rehabilitated because they often get entangled in discarded fishing lines and nets and elastic bands, according to Dr. Eden. These items can restrict their movements, preventing them from feeding and causing infected wounds.
Although the platypus is not an endangered species, wildlife experts are concerned that their populations are waning due to habitat destruction and illegal trapping. Run off of fertilizers and pesticides into waterways can affect invertebrate organisms living in creeks and dams, which in turn affects the platypus because these are important food items. Changes in flood patterns can cause erosion to river banks and sometimes flooding burrows, affecting the waterways. Also, entanglement in litter is an issue for platypuses that live in urban waterways. According to Dr. Eden, Zoos Victoria encourages people who fish to discard unwanted fishing lines by installing bins along popular fishing spots. Waste items such as rubber bands and plastic bottle rings should also be cut through to prevent animal trappings.
As wildlife rehabilitation is a fairly new profession, the credibility of the field and the work of wildlife rehabilitators are constantly questioned. IWRC's courses are science-based with live classroom courses and online training options to choose from. In order to meet minimum knowledge standards, IWRC's courses, journals and books are peer-reviewed and developed by professionals from different aspects of wildlife rehabilitation and medicine. These resources are both single- or double-blind reviewed and addressed to a scientific audience as well as individuals who are not from a science-based background.
However, webinars and web content are reviewed differently and are mostly evaluated by professionals or volunteers prior to publishing online, instead of undergoing a full peer review process.
What are the different types of peer review?
1. Single-blind review process: The reviewers are not identified to the author but the reviewers are aware of the author's identity.
The advantage of this process is that it allows unbiased decisions by the author that are free from influence as the reviewers are anonymous. However, the authors may be concerned that reviewers from the same field may delay the review in order to delay publication as this enables the reviewers to publish first1.
2. Double-blind review process: The identities of authors and reviewers are concealed from each other.
This method is the most effective for journals with material that is free from referencing geographic study areas to ensure that research authors are not easily identified when a study area is described in a manuscript. However, reviewers can sometimes identify the author through the paper's style or subject matter1.
The Peer-Review Process
Peer reviewers are not perfect -- as humans, they make mistakes too. However, peer reviewing verifies that the best science and practices are used. It is also "the best system we have been able to devise in order to maintain the integrity of the scientific publication process," according to Leonard Brennan, former editor of the Wildlife Society Bulletin2.
1White, G. More than 50 shades of gray. The Wildlife Professional. 2014;8: 22 2Brennan, L. Editorial guidance and wildlife science: the role of wildlife society bulletin associate editors and reviewers. Wildlife Society Bulletin. 2012;36(2):396
On June 10th the wildlife rehabilitation community said farewell to Jay Holcomb, executive director of International Bird Rescue.
The first evidence of Jay and IWRC getting together is in March 1974 Board meeting minutes, noting his attendance at that meeting, but not his status. Jay’s association with the organization started before IWRC was even incorporated (this happened later in 1974). Its not clear from the records when Jay officially came on the board, but he was there by 1977 and spent at least 12 years on the board. Jay was president from 1981 to 1983 and again from 1988 to 1991.
Jay’s first tenure as president began auspiciously with the lovely editorial you see below, reprinted from Volume 5(3) of the Journal of Wildlife Rehabilitation and featured again in the soon to be published Volume 34(2). Jay maintained his strong relationship with IWRC through four decades and countless changes to the field. Most recently he stepped in to participate in the 2011 Symposium when the scheduled International Bird Rescue speaker was called out to the Rena Spill in New Zealand.
Jay’s influence was felt far and wide; demonstrated by the diverse award acknowledgements he received, from NWRA’s lifetime achievement award in 1996 to John Muir Conservationist of the Year and Oceana’s Ocean Hero in 2010.
In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to the Jay Holcomb Memorial Fund at International Bird Rescue. IWRC extends condolences to Jay's family, colleagues, and the entire wildlife rehabilitation community.
Excerpt from Jay’s 1982 President’s Message
As president of the Wildlife Rehabilitation Council*, I feel a need to share some of my thoughts on the work that we are all involved in. I have been racking my brain to find the words of wisdom I wanted to say. Instead, I should have been searching my heart, for it is love that connects me with the animals. With this in mind, I want to share these thoughts with you.
One thing all rehabers have in common is a great love and compassion for the wild creatures of the earth. This is why we work incredible hours for little or no money, suffer from physical, emotional, and mental burn-out and sacrifice our personal relationships. It is our constant energy that has nurtured the field of wildlife rehabilitation to the point of becoming a respected and acknowledged profession and a necessary service in our communities.
Wildlife rehabilitation is a pioneering field. We are one of the first groups of people giving back to the earth what many have selfishly taken for years. With every creature we release to the sky or forest, we return a little of what we’ve been blessed with: the earth with all the trimmings.
The Wildlife Rehabilitation Council was formed by a group of people who believe in the freedom for all creatures. We owe it to the animals in our care to investigate new ideas and innovative rehabilitation techniques. Sharing is the only way to maintain excellence and build a strong foundation of knowledge.
The full letter can be found in the archived Volume 5(3) and in the upcoming Volume 34(2).
*At the time this was written, IWRC was still known as the Wildlife Rehabilitation Council.
Today is the 50th anniversary of Rachel Carson's death. Carson brought issues of bio-accumulation and pesticide toxicity to the attention of the general public with her seminal work Silent Spring. Carson gave voice (a voice the public listened to) to disturbing emerging problems using her expertise as a biologist and notoriety as a popular science author. Thanks in part to Rachel Carson we have witnessed the amazing recovery of bald eagles, peregrines, and osprey and the resurgence of songbirds voices. We do not suffer from silent springs bereft of birds, mammals, reptiles, and amphibians.
Celebrate the voice of science; its power to provide information, knowledge, and understanding. Celebrate the people that bring the voice of science to us all, from Rachel Carson to Neil Degrasse Tyson. Celebrate the wildlife rehabilitators that are a voice for wildlife in this generation; observing, recording, and communicating.
How better to remember a hero like Rachel Carson than to acknowledge that we too can be heros.