From Wildlife Rehabilitation Around the World

IWRC Member Spotlight: Kristina Madarang Stahl

Name: Kristina Madarang Stahl

Organization: Bear Sanctuary Prishtina and the Bear Care Group

Location: Prishtina, Kosovo  

Kristina with Gjina, a Eurasian brown bear (Ursus arctos arctos), during an annual vet check, which includes weighing, dental, ultrasound, and tick removal.

IWRC: Hi Kristina! So, tell us a little bit about yourself…

Kristina: I’m a bear biologist, philanthropy and communications officer, editor, and board member of the Bear Care Group. I received my MS in environmental science and policy from Johns Hopkins University and have professional certificates in environmental communications, project planning and management, animal behaviour and welfare, animals in disasters (preparedness/planning), livestock in disasters, and fundraising & development from UC Davis, UVA Darden School of Business, Duke University Nicholas School of the Environment, and the UEdinburgh Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies. I am an avid student of the IWRC curriculum and have completed the zoonoses, pain management, and oil spill volunteering courses. I produce a podcast centered on bear behavior, management, and conservation called “Bear with Me: Let’s Talk Bears”. When I’m not working, I sing, play piano, box, play tennis, and train my standard poodle, Jackie, using operant conditioning.

IWRC: What brought you into wildlife rehabilitation work? 

Kristina: My move to Prishtina, Kosovo for a diplomatic tour brought me into wildlife rehabilitation work with Bear Sanctuary Prishtina and a local veterinary clinic, though my academic background in conservation biology and wildlife management serve as the foundation for this experience.

IWRC: What wildlife species do you rehabilitate?

Kristina: We have rescued and actively rehabilitated twenty Eurasian brown bears, abandoned and stray dogs, cats, and a Eurasian buzzard.

IWRC: What is your fondest wildlife rehabilitation memory?

Kristina: My fondest wildlife rehab memory was releasing a Eurasian buzzard who had presented several months earlier with extensive damage to its wing. It took almost an hour to convince it to fly, the moment that it pitter-pattered, flapped its wings, and disappeared into the woods was extremely satisfying – a long-awaited display of the dignity of this creature.

Kristina gives gives Stivi, a Eurasian brown bear, pain medication disguised in honey for the eye injury he acquired before he was rescued from life as a “restaurant bear.” A few months after this was photo was taken, Stivi got his bad eye removed, is no longer in pain, and easily maneuvers around his natural enclosure.

IWRC: What challenges have you faced in your wildlife rehabilitation work?

Kristina: Acquiring enough funding to allocate to the psychological aspects of the animals’ rehabilitation – finding cost-effective ways to enrich the animals and keep their natural behaviors sharp is extremely challenging.

IWRC: Has the IWRC aided you in your journey as a wildlife rehabilitator? If so, can you explain how or give an example?

Kristina: The IWRC is a wealth of resources and the courses are crucial to staying up with best practices and globally-recognized standards for rehabilitation.

IWRC: What common misconception about wildlife rehabilitation would you like to dispel?

Kristina: Misconception: all members of a species will act predictably the same. In my work with bears, it is apparent daily that each has his or her own personality and behavior traits. Many people with whom I have spoken try to generalize bear behavior, especially related to the topics of bear attacks, livestock predation, and habituation/development of nuisance bear behavior. While there are absolute truths about the preventative measures people can take to avoid both of these things, I try to drive home the point that each interaction can and will be different, so people should learn as much as they can from reputable sources, prepare for everything, and be adaptable.

Monitoring Oska’s heart rate and reactivity during a procedure addressing urethral inflammation. Oska recovered after a few days.

IWRC: How has your wildlife rehabilitation work been impacted by COVID-19?

Kristina: Limited access to the bears has limited enrichment opportunities.

IWRC: What local, national, or international policy would you like to see that would support wildlife rehabilitation?

Kristina: Passing the Big Cat Welfare Act and an addendum regarding other large charismatic megafauna like bears would help wildlife rehabilitation by making breeding for non-reintroduction/extinction prevention purposes illegal. This would decrease the number of poached cubs and mistreated restaurant, circus, and bear bile bears from around the world from ending up in sanctuaries and rehab facilities.

IWRC: What do you hope for the future of wildlife rehabilitation?

Kristina: I hope that wildlife rehabilitation can garner more public support and consistent government and private funding.

IWRC: What message would you like to share with other IWRC members and wildlife rehabilitators across the world?

Kristina: Great job! Keep up the good work. You are heroes in a well-respected trade with a great reputation.

IWRC: Where can people learn more and follow your work?

Website: https://www.four-paws.org/campaigns-topics/sanctuaries/bear-sanctuary-prishtina 

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/PylliiArinjvePrishtina/

SoundCloud: https://soundcloud.com/kristina-madarang-stahl

IWRC: Thank you so much for everything you do and sharing your story with us, Kristina!


We want to hear from you! If you an IWRC member and would like to share your wildlife rehabilitator story with us, please click here.

IWRC Member Spotlight: Frances Bell RVN, DipVNZS, CWR

Name: Frances Bell RVN, DipVNZS, CWR

Organization: Southern African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds (SANCCOB)

Location: Capetown, South Africa

Frances with an African penguin (Spheniscus demersus) requiring debriding and suturing due to suspected seal predation in Capetown.

IWRC: Hi Frances! So, tell us a little bit about yourself…

Frances: I’ve been rehabbing wildlife for the last ten years in Australia, the UK and South Africa. I work mostly with birds but have also helped out with antelope, dassies, kangaroos, turtles, skinks, mongeese, tortoises, servals, bandicoots, hedgehogs, bats (of all kinds), vervet monkeys and…. did I mention birds? Including penguins? I went off to get my vet nursing qualification and after working for a couple of years in small animal practice, am now back in Capetown with my beloved penguins.

IWRC: What brought you into wildlife rehabilitation work? 

Frances: A desire to give something back.

IWRC: What wildlife species do you rehabilitate?

Frances: Any one I’m presented with! There are so many on my bucket list that I want to work with – sloths, pangolins, bears, manatees and and and… the list is endless.

IWRC: What is your fondest wildlife rehabilitation memory?

Frances: Releasing the first lot of penguin “blues” I’d reared from eggs. There’s nothing like the bitter-sweet feeling when precious babies who I’d poured so much love, time and effort into took their very first swim in the ocean, where they belong. It made all the heartbreak of a nightmare run of infection and dead chicks worthwhile.

Frances holding an echidna (Tachyglossidae) being treated for bumblefoot in Queensland, Australia.

IWRC: What challenges have you faced in your wildlife rehabilitation work?

Frances: Working with organisations who just want to keep doing what they’ve always done and are not open to even good change.

IWRC: Has the IWRC aided you in your journey as a wildlife rehabilitator? If so, can you explain how or give an example?

Frances: The IWRC helped me lift my rehab game… I learnt a lot in preparation for the CWR exam and realised that to provide gold standard care, I have to be committed to learning for the rest of my life.

IWRC: What common misconception about wildlife rehabilitation would you like to dispel?

Frances: That it’s about cuddling animals!!! That it’s appropriate to treat them like we do our non-human companions. That it’s easy and never has an emotional cost.

Frances hand-rearing grey headed flying fox pups (Pteropus poliocephalus) after their mothers died of tick paralysis in Queensland, Australia.

IWRC: How has your wildlife rehabilitation work been impacted by COVID-19?

Frances: It hasn’t. I’m still working with an endangered species because wildlife rehab orgs are deemed essential services. I have no idea when I’ll get home but it doesn’t matter – because right now I’m where I need to be, doing what I need to be doing.

IWRC: What local, national, or international policy would you like to see that would support wildlife rehabilitation?

Frances: Uniform international standards for wildlife rehabber accreditation and ongoing education just like the other animal professions – vets and vet nurses. Compulsory accreditation and registration of anyone who wants to call themselves a wildlife rehabber to ensure that everyone works to the highest standards. Recognition for wildlife rehabilitation as a profession in it’s own right, instead of, as in so many countries around the world, something that’s done on a voluntary basis by dedicated individuals who give their time, effort and money to help the helpless. Government funding for wildlife rehabilitation orgs so that what we do is not so constrained by a lack of funds.

IWRC: What do you hope for the future of wildlife rehabilitation?

Frances: That every rehabber realises the value of continuing education for the sake of the health and welfare of every animal that comes into care.

IWRC: What message would you like to share with other IWRC members and wildlife rehabilitators across the world?

Frances: What you do matters, whether you’re saving critically endangered species or common species such as pigeons. All are worthy of our best efforts regardless of their IUCN status. And our best efforts sometimes require stepping out of our comfort zones and learning new skills, new treatments, new ways of thinking.

IWRC: Where can people learn more and follow your work?

Frances: I’ve been to a lot of wildlife rehab places – the good, the bad and the ugly – but right now I”m here:

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/SANCCOBSavesSeabirds/ 

IWRC: Thank you so much for everything you do and sharing your story with us, Frances!


We want to hear from you! If you an IWRC member and would like to share your wildlife rehabilitator story with us, please click here.

IWRC Member Spotlight: Michelle Watson

Name: Michelle Watson

Organization: I’m between posts at the moment but run my own “Wildlife Rescue Johannesburg” Facebook page.

Location: Johannesburg, South Africa

IWRC: Hi Michelle! So, tell us a little bit about yourself…

Michelle: I’ve doing rehab since 2007, have worked for all the local rehab centers at some point, now permitted to do rehab at home. I am one of only four IWRC CWR rehabilitators in South Africa but dream of opening my own center. We have a huge diversity of species in South Africa so networking with specialists is imperative. I am passionate about what I do and strive to improve the level of rehab here.

IWRC: What brought you into wildlife rehabilitation work? 

Michelle: I first became interest in wildlife rehabilitation in 2002 while working as deck crew on private yachts. In the middle of the Indian Ocean an exhausted marine bird landed on the yacht during a severe storm. After tending to it and hand feeding it for 2 weeks, it flew off the deck near the Maldives.

When I returned to South Africa in 2007, I worked at the Free Me Wildlife rehabilitation centre where I dealt with around 300 different species. The huge diversity of urban wildlife in Johannesburg means that an average day could include anything from handling venomous snakes to dealing with roaming brown hyena. I am especially partial to genets which I have raised from new-born to release back into our leafy suburbs. But the highlight of my career was having the opportunity to work with pangolins at the Johannesburg Wildlife Vet Hospital. This elusive, charismatic and highly threatened species has a special place in my heart.

IWRC: What wildlife species do you rehabilitate?

Michelle: I have dealt with over 300 different species in my time as a rehabber. South Africa has a huge diversity so in one day I could deal with anything from a venomous snake to a baby genet, to raptors and larger animals. Currently I am limited with space but hope to open my own center soon.

IWRC: What challenges have you faced in your wildlife rehabilitation work?

Michelle: Currently I face issues with space and finance of course, but generally speaking we face the bigger problem of country-wide poverty and lack of wildlife education. Our urban wildlife is persecuted as bush meat and traditional Muti [medicine].

IWRC: Has the IWRC aided you in your journey as a wildlife rehabilitator? If so, can you explain how or give an example?

Michelle: YES, greatly! Having the certificate has given me some standing as a certified rehabber, and the information available sets the ground work for the standards I would like to see as the norm here one day. The IWRC courses and online support has been instrumental in helping my career along. Since passing the Certified Wildlife Certification (CWR) last year I have had the opportunity to network and assist various centres in and around Johannesburg and am currently permitted by the South African Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre.

IWRC: What common misconception about wildlife rehabilitation would you like to dispel?

Michelle: That you get to cuddle cute and fluffy animals! Haha, but seriously, the misconception that you can actually make a living from it in South Africa!

IWRC: How has your wildlife rehabilitation work been impacted by COVID-19?

Michelle: South Africa has some of the strictest lockdown rules. Movement has been seriously restricted. I cannot go out without a dozen valid permits and, even then, the cops stop you demanding bribes! It’s a nightmare.

IWRC: What local, national, or international policy would you like to see that would support wildlife rehabilitation?

Michelle: Locally I would like to see our own department of environmental affairs implement some sort of minimal standards for rehab centers! Of course policies need to change internationally to curb wildlife trade and prohibit hunting as a “sport”!

IWRC: What do you hope for the future of wildlife rehabilitation?

Michelle: In South Africa we desperately need a rehabilitation center that meets international standards. I hope that I can be the person to do that.

Rampant loss of habitat and persecution through hunting, superstition and fear has put a lot of our urban wildlife in peril. My dream as a rehabber is to use my skills to help “flatten the curve” for threatened wildlife species in South Africa.”

IWRC: What message would you like to share with other IWRC members and wildlife rehabilitators across the world?

Michelle: Supporting each other gives us strength and hope.

IWRC: Where can people learn more and follow your work?

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/adviceforrescuers/

IWRC: Thank you so much for everything you do and sharing your story with us, Michelle!


We want to hear from you! If you an IWRC member and would like to share your wildlife rehabilitator story with us, please click here.

IWRC Member Spotlight: Letitia Labbie

Name: Letitia Labbie

Organization: Acadiana Wildlife Education and Rehabilitation

Location: Youngsville, Louisiana, United States

Letitia releasing a bald eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus).

IWRC: Hi Letitia! So, tell us a little bit about yourself…

Letitia: I am one of four federally permitted Rehabilitators in the state of Louisiana. I founded Acadiana Wildlife Education and Rehabilitation in 1998.

IWRC: What brought you into wildlife rehabilitation work? 

Letitia: I started rehabbing wildlife at ten years old when my fifth grade teacher would bring babies to school.

IWRC: What wildlife species do you rehabilitate?

Letitia: I specialize in birds of prey but end up doing all birds.

IWRC: What is your fondest wildlife rehabilitation memory?

Letitia: Every release is rewarding. But, I guess educating people about how important it is to rescue wildlife is what keeps me going.

Six Mississippi kites (Ictinia mississippiensis) rescued after Hurricane Barry hit in July 2019.

IWRC: What challenges have you faced in your wildlife rehabilitation work?

Letitia: Lack of funding is my biggest challenge. My center building was flooded in August 2016 during a state-wide catastrophic flooding event and I’ve been trying to get donations to renovate it. The number of birds increase each year but I have no volunteers or space until I can rebuild the center.

IWRC: Has the IWRC aided you in your journey as a wildlife rehabilitator? If so, can you explain how or give an example?

Letitia: I’ve always relied on the IWRC for information and training.

IWRC: What common misconception about wildlife rehabilitation would you like to dispel?

Letitia: That we get paid to “do our job!” I haven’t received a penny of income since I started.

Letitia holds a great horned owl rescued from an oilfield pipe yard.

IWRC: How has your wildlife rehabilitation work been impacted by COVID-19?

Letitia: My number of intakes and phone calls have increased due to people being home and finding baby birds and injured birds. I’m actually working harder since I’ve been out of work from my high school job as an assistant teacher.

IWRC: What local, national, or international policy would you like to see that would support wildlife rehabilitation?

Letitia: Funding for rehabilitation centers. 

IWRC: What do you hope for the future of wildlife rehabilitation?

Letitia: I hope that more people will see the growing need of centers in each state. Louisiana has none. Only individual rehabilitators.

IWRC: What message would you like to share with other IWRC members and wildlife rehabilitators across the world?

Letitia: Hang in there! 

IWRC: Where can people learn more and follow your work?

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/acadianawildlife/

IWRC: Thank you so much for everything you do and sharing your story with us, Letitia!


We want to hear from you! If you an IWRC member and would like to share your wildlife rehabilitator story with us, please click here.

IWRC Member Spotlight: Lebanese Wildlife

Name: Samara P. El-Haddad

Organization: Lebanese Wildlife

Location: Beirut, Lebanon

Important Update: On Tuesday, August 4, 2020, several days after Lebanese Wildlife completed their IWRC Member Spotlight, Beirut was hit by two massive explosions. The devastation caused by these explosions has been far-reaching and Lebanese Wildlife was unfortunately impacted by the blasts. Their center was hit by the explosions causing severe damage. Luckily, the staff survived (although there were injuries), but not all of the animals were so lucky – two were killed and more were injured. As they explain on their Facebook page “The explosion didn’t only take away two of our beloved animals, it took away our hard work, it took away parts of our hearts. We are devastated and broken, but rescue calls have not stopped, and our mission cannot be put on hold“.

Despite the impacts to their center and the great losses they have all suffered, the team is continuing to care for their wildlife patients as well as taking-in new urban rescues that have been found amidst the rubble in Beirut.

We invite you to support Lebanese Wildlife in these difficult times by making a donation to their fundraising page. Please CLICK HERE to make a donation and support Lebanese Wildlife.

Additionally, if you have any ideas for how to further support or send aid/in-kind donations to Lebanese Wildlife despite current shipping restrictions, please contact aya@theiwrc.org.

We’ve had eight barn owls (Tyto alba) in our care in the past two months, all of them confiscated from the local illegal pet trade. On Friday, July 31, we released the last remaining five from our care, and this is one of them.

IWRC: Hi Samara! So, tell us a little bit Lebanese Wildlife. 

Samara: Lebanese Wildlife (LW) is an environmental conservation non-governmental organisation (NGO) that initially began as an initiative in September 2018 and was established as an NGO in June 2020. LW treats injured and orphaned local wildlife and returns them to their natural habitat upon full recovery. We continuously strive to improve the quality of local wildlife care and foster compassion within the community through awareness campaigns, information and training sessions, workshops, and activities. The team has up to 10 years of experience rescuing local and exotic wildlife.

IWRC: How did Lebanese Wildlife get started?  

Samara: This NGO was established in an effort to combat animal cruelty, neglect, and mistreatment and show the Lebanese community that both domestic and wild animals deserve to be treated with respect and consideration.

IWRC: What wildlife species do you rehabilitate?

Samara: We rehabilitate local wildlife species, with the exception of Steve the Nile Crocodile (photo below). He is a victim of the illegal wildlife trade, kept on someone’s balcony on the 5th floor. He’s been confiscated and in our care till his paperwork is complete to be sent to a sanctuary abroad. The list of local species that have come into our care so far is found below:

Mammals: Striped Hyena (photo below), Southern White-Breasted Hedgehog, Red fox (photo below), Golden Jackal, Common Pipistrelle Bat (photo below), Egyptian Fruit Bat, Common Noctule Bat, Caucasian Squirrel, & European Badger.

Birds: Chukar Partridge, Common Barn Owl (photo above), Black-headed Gull, Common Blackbird, Common Buzzard, Common Crane, Common Kestrel, Common Kingfisher, Crested Honey Buzzard, Euarasian Hoopoe, Eurasian Roller, Eurasian Scops Owl, Eurasian Sparrowhawk, European Bee-Eater, European Honey Buzzard, European NightJar, Great White Pelican, Grey Headed Swamphen, Hen Harrier, Hooded Crow, House Sparrow, Lesser Spotted Eagle, Long-eared Owl, Marsh Harrier, Montagu’s Harrier, Osprey, Short-toed Snake Eagle, Tawny Owl, Western Marsh Harrier, & White Stork.

Reptiles: Transcaucasian Rat Snake, Balkan Pond Turtle, Large Whip Snake, Blunt-Nosed Viper, Coin-Marked Snake, European Glass Lizard, Greek Tortoise, Mediterranean Chameleon, Montpellier Snake, Palestine Viper, Loggerhead Sea Turtle, & Spotted Whip Snake.

Amphibians: Near Eastern Fire Salamander.

Steve, the Nile Crocodile, was a victim of the illegal wildlife trade and kept on someone’s 5th floor balcony. He’s been confiscated and in our care until his paperwork is complete to be sent to a sanctuary abroad.
Dexter is a newborn Common Pipistrelle Bat (Pipistrellus pipistrellus) who was found in a factory in Qartaba. He was found to be premature and, as such, will stay in our care until he is fully-grown. When ready, we will conduct a soft release for Dexter to be able to integrate with a roost near where he was found.

IWRC: What is your fondest wildlife rehabilitation memory?

Samara: Most of the animals that come into our care have a special story and they all leave a great impact; however, the most memorable is the story of Mantouf, meaning “plucked” in Arabic. Mantouf was a Lesser Spotted Eagle that we rescued by chance. The report was about a badger caught in a trap. After rescuing him, we stumbled upon a big cage holding different birds of prey, and stopped to convince the “owner” to hand them over. All the birds were in good condition to be released – except for Mantouf, who was sitting in the corner on the ground with a bloody head, damaged feathers, lethargic, and barely moving. We grabbed him with low expectations that he would make it. He was refusing food and you could see it in his eyes – he had lost the will to survive. It was heartbreaking, but we didn’t give up on him! We introduced him to Scar, another Lesser Spotted Eagle and wildlife ambassador under our care. They became best friends and we saw Mantouf gaining strength and confidence day-by-day. After 6 long months of rehabilitation, Mantouf was released back into his habitat. He flew beautifully, high and proud. And yes we cried our eyes out..

Our head vet, Dr. Gaby Hilan, treating a female Legless Lizard (Pseudopus apodus) after she was attacked by locals mistaking her for a snake.

IWRC: What challenges have you faced in your wildlife rehabilitation work?

Samara: We are facing two main challenges. First we have a limited space in our homes to take in cases and end up having to reject cases since we are full. This is the main reason we would like to build a rehabilitation center: to take the animals out of our homes into better-suited enclosures for their rehabilitation. Secondly, in October 2019 Lebanon started a revolution due to the economic crash and so forth. This led to the increased cost of imported supplies we need for our rescues, such as necessary medicine that is not found locally. This has since limited our resources and forced us to turn down many reported cases.

IWRC: Has the IWRC aided your organization in its journey? If so, can you explain how or give an example?

Samara: IWRC helped us build a solid basis for our NGO, and gave us standards and best practices to rely on and adhere to such as the housing requirements provided in the ‘Minimum Standards for Wildlife Rehabilitation, 4th edition, 2012, NWRA & IWRC’.

IWRC: What common misconception about wildlife rehabilitation would you like to dispel?

Samara: The most common local misconception about wildlife rehabilitation we would like to dispel is that wildlife rehabilitation is the same as keeping wildlife as pets or in zoos where the public can come visit and play/take photos with individuals. Another misconception is the belief that wildlife rehabilitation is the responsibility of NGOs and not the community as a whole.

Red foxes (Vulpes vulpes) Robin and Ross were illegally hunted and were the only survivors (their mother and siblings were killed). Fortunately, they remained strong until our team arrived to the rescue.

IWRC: How has your wildlife rehabilitation work been impacted by COVID-19?

Samara: COVID-19 has prevented our team from reaching some areas where rescues are encountered due to lockdown regulations. For such incidents we provide as much information for the individual who reported it on how to care for the animal until it is possible to release or we can make it to them.

Rufus, a Palestinian Mole Rat (Nannospalax ehrenbergi), was found wandering the streets between buildings and scared the people with his unusual look. Our team took Rufus in to relocate him to a more suitable habitat.

IWRC: What local, national, or international policy would you like to see that would support wildlife rehabilitation?

Samara: We would like to integrate the following local policies: (1) Forest rangers, tour guides and farmers to be educated about wild animals and their importance (i.e. ecosystem services) (2) Animal welfare and wildlife awareness to be included in school/university curricula (3) Snakes to stop being referred to as pests as we have some endangered species of snakes, and (4) Integrate wildlife medicine into veterinary curricula.

IWRC: What do you hope for the future of wildlife rehabilitation?

Samara: We hope for more accessible rehabilitation resources. We hope for more indulged compassionate people. We hope to see less wildlife categorized as endangered on the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) Red List on a national and global scale.

Jasmine is a Striped Hyena (Hyaena hyaena) who collided with a vehicle while crossing the road. She made a full recovery and was released back into her natural habitat.

IWRC: What message would you like to share with other IWRC members and wildlife rehabilitators across the world?

Samara: The will to help wildlife in need is stronger than any economic crisis, pandemic, and nationwide unrest.

IWRC: Where can people learn more and follow your work?

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/lebanesewildlife/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/LebaneseWildlife/

YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCN-3BRU9i5M1qOHAEcUaUgA

Twitter: https://twitter.com/Leb_Wildlife

Website: www.lebanesewildlife.org (Under Construction)

IWRC: Thank you so much for everything you do and sharing Lebanese Wildlife’s amazing story with us, Samara!


We want to hear from you! If you an IWRC member and would like to share your wildlife rehabilitator story with us, please click here.

Happy National Zoo Keeper Week! What does this have to do with wildlife rehabilitation?

This week (July 19th through 25th) the American Association of Zoo Keepers celebrates National Zoo Keeper Week (NZKW), focusing “on the need to protect and preserve our wildlife and vanishing habitats via conservation messages created by their institutions.”

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:

Venn diagram showing where the spheres of wildlife rehabilitation, zoos, and USFWS overlap.
Venn diagram created from NWRA attendee responses to the question, ‘what are the roles/characteristics of each group’.

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…

For more information:

National Zoo Keeper Week and the American Association of Zoo Keepers

Building Bridges….and visiting the Zoo – Presentation

Building Bridges… and visiting the Zoo – Resource Handout

Connections… Wildlife Rehabilitation and the Zoo – Presentation

Fire Season Tips

Part II of a short series

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.

 

Smoke Inhalation

  • 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.
  • Appropriate Antibiotics 
      • Chemical and bacterial pneumonia is common after smoke inhalation
      • Monitor with radiographs and/or bloodwork before, during, and after starting antibiotics.
  • Treat anxiety
    • 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.

 

Burns

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.

 

Long-term Care

  • 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.

Works Cited:

      1. 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.

Fire Season Tips

(Part I of a short series)

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!).

Works Cited

  1. Phillips C. Covid-19 collision with 2020 fire season will ignite multiple threats. Union of Concerned Scientists, May 11, 2020, [accessed July 6, 2020] https://blog.ucsusa.org/carly-phillips/covid-19-collision-with-2020-fire-season-will-ignite-multiple-threats