There are no words in any human vocabulary to describe the unimaginable horror as Australia burns. There are emotions, deep-stabbing pains of grief, voids and the vacancy of loss, infinite vacuum of pain, but no words. Not one living thing consumed by this hell brought on by human greed and antipathy deserves this fate. I write this now, as my Australian colleagues have much more important things to do. I hope to voice some of their feelings, but I do not speak for them; I understand there is no possibility that I can ever know the pain they suffer.
Looking on the holocaust from afar is devastating. In the field, you put your head down, go to work, do your best and continue on. The personal pain and suffering comes later. From far away, helpless horror and despair takes over. I cannot weep, I cannot rage, I am numb. The tearing rip through my soul does not yet sear.
I have been an Australiophile since I can remember. On my first trip, the first view from the airport on hitting the soil of this fabulous continent took my breath away. I knew I was there. The airport, the people, the industrial aspect –all familiar–but there were galahs, right there. And magpie larks and noisy miners and funny-looking pigeons with crests. I was entranced and filled with wonder! Of all the places in the world to burn to nothingness, the loss of Australia is unfathomable. It is a continent already at the brink, and so susceptible and fragile to anthropogenic damage. The impact on the unique and ancient flora and fauna is beyond the scope of human understanding. There is nowhere else in the world these ecosystems and organisms exist. The fires are needless, preventable squandering of irreplaceable, priceless treasures. The Earth has been violated and robbed. So fortunate have I been, to have visited for several extended tours in regions that now are visions of hell. I vividly remember that stunning individual bowerbird who is now surely ash and his lovely bower rendered to molecules. I remember the first wild koalas I saw, on Kangaroo Island, smelling of chewed eucalyptus, whose remains now intermingle with the charcoal of their favorite gum trees.
Reading the news that Kangaroo Island was aflame dropped the bottom out of my heart. I remember Australia: the first goanna, the first mallee trees; the first brown snake; the first bulldog ant; the first voracious leech; I remember them all and I know they are gone, dead in the most horrible fashion. Gone are half a billion wild animals. Half of all animals in Australia. Countless livestock and pets. Indigenous communities, lands and people. Death of entire ecosystems. Death of a continent. Death of biological record so important to evolution and systematics. Death of history.
Australia is the lesson to the world of what is to come. It is not a surprise. In the late 1970’s I was a fresh young college student working in ecological studies, some of which were predicting the course of human impact on global ecosystems. For 50 years humans have known what would happen, yet little was done to change the course of destruction. Governments have refused to acknowledge or implement policy to prevent disaster. Australia is the result. The rest of us are next.
As a wildlife veterinarian I know there is little to be done. Skills in euthanasia will be the most valuable at this point. Yet valiant and dedicated people give their all and rescue the animal fire victims, of which each individual will now be more important than ever to any remaining population. Wildlife rehabilitators are always heros; but this is a new level of courage.
How can we help? I know that everyone of you would jump on a plane tomorrow with a bag of supplies, but that is not what our friends and the burn victims need most.
The easiest answer is money – providing money so rehabilitators can buy what they need.
Morale support – we are there if needed. Spreading the word, for help and for prevention.
Educating ourselves and others about our local ecological regions and how humans fit into our world, and how deeply we damage it.
Advocating for change and awareness.
Being political and outspoken when needed.
Acknowledging the imminent climate crisis and preparing for the impact on our own turf.
Be the best wildlife rehabilitator you can be – in the future you will be needed more than ever!
Pat Latas, DVM
IWRC Board of Directors
Editor’s note: University of Sydney Ecology professor Chris Dickman is estimating 1 billion animals have been killed thus far by the record-breaking wildfires in Australia, as of Jan 8, 2020.
IF YOU CONTINUE TO SCROLL DOWN, YOU WILL SEE DISTURBING IMAGES OF WILDLIFE AFFECTED BY FIRE
On Jan 2, Facebook user Nick Ritar posted the following ten photos taken at Bastion Beach in Mallacoota, Victoria and said:
“Birds of Eastern Australia 2020
2. Rainbow Lorikeet
4. Top Knot Pigeon
6. New Holland Honeyeater
8. Gang-gang Cockatoo
10. Barn Owl
This is what climate change looks like.”
Editors note: specimen identifications were his, and frankly – there’s really no need to publicly speculate or correct them at this point in time.
Editors note: The act of compiling this post has been enough shake me to my core. Just like you, I feel utterly devastated and every image actually feels like someone is trying to pull my heart out of my chest. I have cried, wanted to punch someone (preferably a climate denier) and seriously considered screaming into a pillow as a release. But none of those things will help the people and animals that are suffering and I know the only thing I actually can do to help them is to donate. This is yet more reason for me to get back to work on IWRC’s Disaster Preparedness project so that we – all wildlife rehabbers -can all be ready to respond to these events in the future. I’ve lived through several big fire outbreaks here in southern California and I can honestly say that the only thing the local rehabbers needed from the outside rehabbers was money and moral support. So please, choose one or more of the rehab affiliated links that we have listed on this Facebook post and donate. – Brooke Durham
The following is the third in a short series of posts from IWRC staff and board members who attended the WDA Conference at Granlibakken Resort in Tahoe City, California USA in August 2019
Multiple-drug resistance in wildlife
From the 2019 Wildlife Disease Association Conference, several presentations gave great cause for worry. The number of documented multi-antibiotic resistant infections in wildlife is increasingly more serious. Anthropogenic exposure is causing never-treated wildlife to host serious pathogens that will require specialized and aggressive antibiotic therapy; these organisms also could endanger rehabilitators and staff.
Wildlife as diverse as the kodkod, also called güiña (Leopardus guingna) in Chile and the California condors (Gymnogyps californianus) in California have microbial flora with multiple antibiotic resistance, reflecting the urban and agricultural environments in which they live.
Irene Sacristan and her team investigated antibiotic resistance genes in the güiña in Chile. PCR testing was used to identify genes associated with antimicrobial resistance; and since these genes are considered to be environmental contaminants, the results could be used to compare anthropogenic impact. The felines most exposed to human disturbance had the highest drug-resistant genes (including MRSA), but even pristine environments showed influence. The use of affordable PCR testing will become more and more important to diagnosis and characterization of diseases in our wildlife, and rehabilitators should be ready and educated for the time it actually happens.
Peter Sebastian and his team at UC Davis working with California condors examined cloacal E. coli (Escherichia coli) patterns of multiple-drug microbial resistance. The variation in the E. coli resistance depended upon the food source, and it is possible that those birds feeding on livestock carcasses may reflect antimicrobial resistance in livestock; and thereby environmental contamination.
Gulls in Alaska were shown to have multiple-drug antimicrobial resistance when their E. coli genome was sequenced. Christina Ahlstrom and collaborators found that trash-dump birds traveled locally and, by satellite tracking, were shown to travel as far south as southern California and East Asia. The potential of acquisition and dispersal of multi-drug resistant E. coli has many ramifications for human, environmental and animal health.
Marine mammals of the Salish Sea are being evaluated for multiple-drug resistant E. coli by Stephanie Norman and her collaborators. Seals and porpoises are showing evidence of such, and studies are on-going.
It is a lesson to all of us in wildlife rehabilitation to base antibiotic use on evidence: bacterial culture and antibiotic sensitivity should direct treatment, rather than just reaching for that vial of “xyz” for every animal. And a reminder that wildlife from urban and agricultural areas are highly likely to have resistant infections even if they never had antibiotics ever in their life! It is also a lesson for wildlife rehabilitators to collect good data and so contribute to research, disease survey and surveillance. And speaking of good data: every wildlife rehabber is important and can contribute significantly to both specific and overall knowledge bases. Early detection of disease or issues is at the doorstep of first-responder wildlife careers. Who are the boots-on-the-ground in the beginning of an outbreak, mortality, stranding, poisoning or other event? Several speakers mentioned the value of biologist/One-Health/disease surveillance collaborations with wildlife rehabilitation centers. It was gratifying to hear that the disease professionals value contributions from our community.
Pox viruses (Poxviridae) are an important disease for rehabilitators to understand. Amanda MacDonald and her team investigated pox viruses and found that different pox isolates are restricted to different taxa, but sporadic and evolving strains have the potential to infect more than one species. This information of extreme importance to managing outbreaks. For the rehabilitators, knowing these facts will help with bio-security and isolation policies.
A lot is happening on the wildlife vaccine front. Real progress has been made on a White-nose syndrome with an oral, mass application carrier-virus vaccine for bats, and gives hope to the eventual protection of threatened populations and hibernacula.
Investigation into an effective oral formulation of anthrax (Bacillus anthracis) vaccine may be a good approach to protect wildlife in anthrax-endemic areas. Allison Fricht from Texas A&M University discussed the development of an oral anthrax vaccine for ruminants, wildlife and livestock. This is an important development to protect animals in regions where anthrax is endemic. The problem with ruminants is their many stomachs will denature oral vaccines and render them inactive or digested. Having a formulation that can be incorporated into feed or forage is a great advancement.
Vaccine trials in roe deer (Capreolus capreolus) with a tick vaccine show promise in controlling tick infestations in Spain, as described by presenter Isabel García Fernández de Mera.
Reptiles and amphibians were well-represented, with some great presentations on very frightening emerging and new diseases. Rehabbers especially in the southeast USA, but in reality, all across the globe, should be on the look-out for unusual oral and skin lesions in their herps. The diagnostic trail can usually start with a simple swab and finding the right lab. Fungal lesions are increasingly common, and some of the amphibian diseases thought to be ONLY in salamanders are now known to have the potential to infect anurans (frogs and toads). And sadly many of the novel diseases are likely related to the pet trade and trafficking, and “exotic” disease can appear anywhere and cause epidemics in local fauna.
Bunyavirus in turtles (softshells and cooters) – oral lesions and ulcers and plaques on other soft tissues along with severe internal organ lesions were examined by Lisa Shender and her team along the St. Johns River in Florida, USA. They discovered an underlying, new virus affecting all of them. The infection is similar and the virus is identical to one found in farmed turtles a number of years ago. Lethal new and emerging diseases are a serious threat to any vulnerable species and chelonians in general are under great threat and pressure.
It may seem esoteric, but having tissue culture cell lines from amphibians and reptiles is absolutely essential for detecting and diagnosis of diseases. Cell lines are very difficult from herps, and for many years there were only a handful of them in existence. Cell cultures are used especially in viral diseases and difficult parasites and demanding bacteria. Tracy Logan and her research team at the University of Florida were able to develop a number of lines that will be integral to diagnosis in herp diseases.
Truly horrifying and associated with climate change and animal trafficking and the exotic pet trade: serious, fatal fungal diseases. The chytrid fungus is well-known for debilitating disease in frogs and toads, but the Bsal (Batrachochytrium salamandrivorans) chytrid, infecting salamanders in Europe, may appear in the New World at any time. A team from the University of Tennessee looked into the possibility that Bsal not only could infect salamanders but potentially could spill over into frogs and toads. The animals developed typical lesions. This fungus could represent a serious threat to non-salamanders. Both this fungus and the other chytrid mycotic diseases in amphibians have been associated with legal and illegal trafficking of amphibians for the pet trade. Rehabbers should be alert to amphibian diseases, take appropriate samples, submit for testing, and be prepared for and assume all are highly contagious until proven otherwise.
Nicola Peterson and team from Australia were involved in a real-life detective story, tracing severe fungal disease in water dragons (Physignathus). Until very recently, mixed fungal diseases were described only from captive/pet animals. A recent outbreak in a city park is now confirmed from multiple locations. There is evidence that the original “patient zero” was a sick pet that was witnessed being released into the park. More reason than ever for rehabilitators to be vigilant, be aware that the pet trade adversely impacts wild populations, and to be prepared for multiple layers of diagnosis.
Hair samples can be analyzed via spectrometry to reveal health status of populations. Hair is easy to collect, store, archive and identify. Jesper Moshbacher and many international collaborators analyzed trace elements from muskoxen (Ovibos moschatus) and showed that hair analysis was practical and useful tool, especially in remote and infrequently sampled regions.
Several talks concerned sarcoptic mange (Sarcoptes scabiei) outbreaks, which may have become a global crisis. From South America to California.
A team from the University of California Davis monitored a small population of endangered San Joaquin kit foxes (Vulpes macrotis mutica) and described potential routes of infection, den climate favorable to the mites, and proposed possible control measures. Another team from California Department of Fish & Wildlife compared various canid hosts and the genetic make-up of their mites, to determine if coyotes, foxes and dogs could be involved. They found the mites to be host specific and recommended treatment focusing on the kit foxes.
Some frightening news has come out of California and Australia. Chlamydia infections are quite complicated and more sophisticated testing may be required. Not all Chlamydia are the same and novel species have been found in in native pigeon species and in raptors.
Helena Stokes and her team from Deakin University in Australia have found that infection by “regular” Chlamydia species in native parrots, people, and chickens can flow in all directions, with all pathogens and affect the host species in different ways. A lot more work needs to be done, including testing for novel species of Chlamydia.
Michelle Hawkins lead an investigation into characterizing and describing a new species of Chlamydia associated with severe disease in raptor species in California. It may be important to test sick birds for chlamydia by PCR and in addition request genome sequencing. Collaboration with investigators could be valuable.
It was nice to hear from the world of invertebrates. We rehabbers may be asked to gain skills with invertebrate care and release in the near future, as climate crisis impacts more biodiversity. Ania Majewska from the University of Georgia investigated the protozoan parasites in Monarch butterflies in relation to urbanization.
Having been a fan of @WhiteAbalone since they started their Twitter account, I was thrilled to attend Blythe Marshman’s talk on white abalone (Haliotis sorenseni), an endangered species, and the rickettsial withering Syndrome. The presentation tied together the impact of overfishing, stress, changing water temperatures, and pathogen interactions. The care and compassion shown for the animals in their care was very inspiring.
Environmental conditions that favor algal overgrowth can be related to mass casualties in waterbirds. Corinne Gibble and her co-authors showed the brain pathology associated with both acute and sub-lethal toxin exposure.
Vectors and vectors-borne infections were the subject of a number of the talks. Francisco Ruiz-Fons and his team investigated Crimean-Congo hemorrhagic fever (CCHF) associated with ticks of the genus Hyalomma and red deer (Cervus elaphus) in southern Europe. This virus represents a possible threat to hunters and other humans who handle the animals (rehabilitators, veterinarians, etc). The disease may be widespread and rehabilitators should be aware of ticks, tick bites, and animals suffering from vector-borne disease.
Climate change and human activities may be influencing the distribution of ticks and their pathogens. In Norway, Carlos das Neves sampled many species of ungulates for hepatitis E and tick-borne encephalitis virus, both of which can infect humans and livestock, and demonstrated ungulates as valuable sentinels for early detection of emerging disease.
Lyme disease (Borrelia burgdorferi) in upland game birds was detected in wild turkey (Meleagris gallopavo), ruffed grouse (Bonasa umbellus), ring-necked pheasants (Phasianus colchicus), and American woodcock (Scolopax minor) from Pennsylvania, USA, and Christopher Cleveland from University of Georgia suggested these species may act as a reservoir for Lyme disease and the tick vector diseases.
Speaking of vectors, West Nile virus may be implicated in declining population numbers of the ruffed grouse (Bonasa umbellus). Climate conditions may become more favorable to mosquito vectors. Julie Menotti with Michigan Department of Natural Resources and her team investigated the presence of West Nile virus in dead and ill birds and recommended further studies. A study from Pennsylvania presented by Dominica Dec Peevy from Penn State covered landscape and mosquito characteristics and how they may influence risk factors for West Nile epidemics.
Sub-lethal exposure to rodenticides is common in bald eagles (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) and golden eagles (Aquila chrysaetos), as reported by Kevin Niedringhaus. Exposure was detected in about 83% of golden eagles and 76% bald eagles, but mortality was about 4%. The effects on the population, and on individual birds, needs to be evaluated. As rehabilitators, you may be able to record exposure levels and contribute valuable data to the ongoing inquiry. We know, in other species, that sub-lethal exposure to anticoagulant rodenticides can have drastic impact on individual animals, and the more data we gather, the more we can assess and mitigate the impact.
An exciting study on post-release monitoring in hummingbirds using RFID (radio-frequency identification) might inspire some creativity. Ruta Bandivadekar from the University of California, Davis described a study of hummingbirds in rehabilitation and what methodologies impacted survivability. Post-release monitoring was integral to the study, and showed that RFID and PIT tags can contribute significant value to the available data.
Moral of the story, WDA 2019: we are a team!
Collaborations are incredibly important, valued, and sought. Wildlife rehabilitators can contribute directly to the knowledge base of wildlife disease and should be active partners in investigations.
The study of wildlife disease has matured and evolved. In order to implement effective solutions policy-makers, community leaders, sociologists, socio-economic experts, economists and other experts need to be engaged and invited onto teams. Discovering and describing diseases should be based on impeccable scientific inquiry, but successful implementation of change, mitigation of problems, and practical solutions will require outside help. Wildlife health workers must not be afraid of engaging outside experts and pushing their own comfort zones. Teamwork, engagement, and empowerment of professional networks, local communities, and colleagues is the only way that we will all mitigate the current climate crisis and anthropogenic catastrophe. Wildlife rehabilitators need to embrace scientific method, sharing, and collaboration in order to protect the precious creatures and environments we love; and to which we owe a debt and duty.
The following is the second in a short series of posts from IWRC staff and board members who attended the WDA Conference at Granlibakken Resort in Tahoe City, California USA in August 2019
Q&A with Julissa Angius
What were your favorite talks/papers?
(in no particular order)
“They’re always there”: Characterizing rat exposure and its consequences among residents of an impoverished, inner-city neighborhood in Vancouver, Canada presented by Dr. Chelsea G. Himsworth
This not not only gave an interesting look at how urban rats live and socialize, it gave commentary on the human aspect of those living around and with the rats. This goes into the human and social inequalities in a rather affluent modern city.
White Abalone (Haliotis sorenseni) resilience in the face of extinction: mitigating disease impacts on endangered abalone in a captive breeding program presented by Ms. Blythe Marshman
Just cool because sometimes you don’t think about animals such as these! AND they are going extinct! We just need to be aware of those animals outside of our normal scope.
Integration of Wildlife and Environmental Health into a One Health Approach presented by Dr. Jonathan Sleeman
I am interested on how to integrate the One Health approach into our classes and make it relevant to wildlife rehabilitators. Jonathan is a great speaker and gave some great insight into this subject.
Modeling land-sea transmission of Toxoplasma gondii presented by Dr. Tristan Burgess
Goes into how toxo is transmitted from the land to the sea and those marine creatures affected. Nothing is too big or small to cross-contaminate! Yikes!
Development of a killer whale health database to assess individual and population health of southern resident killer whales (Orcinus orca) presented by Dr. Forrest Gomez
Illustrates how different organizations can work together with some technology to create an amazing tool that is organized and full of detail to track the health of these animals.
Early detection of health events through temporal anomalies in wildlife admissions at rehabilitation centers presented by Dr. Pranav Pandit
Whoot! Go Rachel and Devin! Excellent study on how rehabilitators can be an alert system to other wildlife professionals through an accessible database for all! Bringing the ‘little people’ to the big people table!
Did you learn something that wildlife rehabbers should really be aware of or concerned about?
Yes, rehabbers should really invest in going to conferences such as these, not just rehab type conferences, to broaden the mind on what is out there! This is definitely my favorite conference because of its diversity on every level!
Were there old friends that you ran into or reconnected with? Did you meet new acquaintances?
Yes! Especially all the IWRC types! We don’t get to see each other in person so much and it’s so beneficial, socially and work wise!
Definitely got to meet and engage with new people that I never would have outside of this conference!
Who did you talk about IWRC or wildlife rehabilitation with that perhaps you would only ever have a chance to talk to at a Wildlife Disease Association event?
There is the lovely forensic veterinarian from the forensic lab in Ashland. The new vice-president of WDA and USGS person Tom DeLiberto.
The following is the first in a short series of posts from IWRC staff and board members who attended the WDA Conference at Granlibakken Resort in Tahoe City, California USA in August 2019
I’ve recently returned home from the 2019 Wildlife Disease Association Conference, my first one. I highly recommend this meeting to any academic or disease minded rehabilitator (2020 Spain, 2021 Madison, 2022 Georgia, 2023 Australia). The first keynote, by Dr Pieter Johnson focused on community ecology as a tool for understanding parasite interactions and anticipating disease risk. Traditionally these scientific ways of thinking had little overlap. This talk set an excellent conference tone of collaboration across artificial boundaries and a true One Health view of the world.
The attendees were diverse in field, location, language, and age. I was able to spend time with IWRC staff (Julissa), board (Brooke Durham, Mandy Kamps, Pat Latas), members (several!), and instructor (Rob Adamski) and our NWRA colleagues. I was also able to meet with rehabilitators from South Korea (전북야생동물센터 Jeonbuk Wildlife Center) and Chile (Refugio Animal Cascada) researchers in South Sudan, Bangladesh, India, Norway, and Australia, and bend the ear of regulators in several countries about the benefits of wildlife rehabilitation.
It wasn’t just me talking about wildlife rehabilitation, though I certainly did enough of that in the corridors and at meals. Several speakers wove wildlife rehabilitation into their talks, even more obtained data from animals brought in to wildlife rehabilitation. Most thrilling was the work that Terra Kelly, Pranav Pandit and their team did, collaborating with WRMD to create a first of its kind early alert system. With buy-in from multiple California rehabilitators, they integrated with the data wildlife rehabilitators were already entering to see trends in disease that spanned beyond a single rehabilitator. Imagine, 2 murres here, 5 there, another 6 over there, and pretty soon a pattern emerges (or doesn’t).
Wildlife rehabilitation centers are “uniquely poised to advance knowledge of threats to wildlife health and populations”
My takeaway from the 2019 Wildlife Disease Association Conference “Fostering Resiliency in a Time of Change” was that we need a true One Health approach to disease management for the good of all species, and that wildlife rehabilitation must be a player on the ‘big stage’ of global health.
As wildlife rehabilitators we all know the value of feathers to birds. Thermoregulation, communication, and mobility are just a few ways birds utilize their feathers. But what about when a bird no longer needs those feathers? What purpose can they serve? For some, imping is an excellent use of feathers, as is utilizing them for research or educational purposes. While these options have great merit, most feathers that end up being saved are eagle feathers, in the US the majority of which end up at the National Eagle Repository.
The National Eagle Repository is a government sanctioned collection site for both bald and golden eagle carcasses and feathers. With the inception of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and other wildlife protection laws, US Native Americans lost the right to possess and utilize feathers that they required for important cultural and religious purposes. For decades USFWS tried to come up with solutions, but even with the establishment of the National Eagle Repository the process of just getting a single feather was slow and laborious. In 1990 the Pueblo of Zuni made a bold but sensible proposition. Wildlife rehabilitators were often faced with the challenge of what to do with non-releasable eagles. The Zuni proposed the creation of a long term care facility where the birds could live out their lives, well cared for, while providing molted feathers to native people. With the institution of the Native American Eagle Aviary Permit, native communities were able to benefit not only from molted feathers, but from the pride and satisfaction of caring for eagles that still have a good quality of life despite having disabilities that make them unreleasable.
In Perkins, Oklahoma Megan Judkins spends many hours working with eagles and their feathers. Megan works at the Grey Snow Eagle House, a rehabilitation and long term care facility for eagles that is run by the Iowa Tribe of Oklahoma. While their primary focus is caring for their eagle population, they also rehabilitate eagles from Oklahoma, provide educational programs, and are working in collaboration with Oklahoma State on genomic research of bald and golden eagles. Although these things keep them busy, their main focus is the health and well being of the eagles. Eagles are screened carefully before being allowed to enter long term care, and once in the program they are given bi-annual veterinary exams, multiple forms of enrichment and are carefully monitored to ensure they have the best quality of life possible.
Megan says that while many people think Grey Snow Eagle House (GSEH) opened specifically to provide feathers for the Iowa Nation this is actually a misconception. “The GSEH opened because while eagles play pivotal roles in all Native cultures, for the Iowa Tribe of Oklahoma the eagle is viewed as the only living creature that has seen the face of the creator. The eagle also assists the tribal members by carrying their prayers to the creator. So, by rehabilitating injured eagles and releasing them back into the wild, the tribe believes that these birds will continue to help their tribal members by carrying their prayers. In addition, by providing high quality homes to the eagles that cannot be released back to the wild, the tribe is saying thank you to the species for helping the tribe through the generations. Finally, by participating in research collaborations, we are ensuring bald and golden eagles persist through future generations.”
To learn more about the Grey Snow Eagle House you can visit their website here: http://eagles.iowanation.org/ But why visit online when you can visit in person! Grey Snow Eagle House will be hosting the IWRC Basic Wildlife Rehabilitation Class December 1-2, 2017. There are still a few spots available so sign up today!
[HOUSTON, TX] — Disasters bring communities together and bring out the best in people. Organizations helping people and organizations helping companion animals (dogs, cats, horses, etc.) impacted by natural and human-made disasters have become part of the emergency landscape. They quickly and efficiently channel donor dollars into relief efforts.
It’s different with wildlife. While wild animals impacted by these same disasters get compassionate care from wildlife rescuers and rehabilitators, a well-organized and well-funded response system has never been in place.
The magnitude of the devastation wrought by Hurricane Harvey has compelled our organizations – LoveAnimals.org, Animal Help Now, Southern Wildlife Rehab, and The International Wildlife Rehabilitation Council (IWRC) – to put together a fundraising effort to come to the aid of the wildlife rehabilitators and rescuers desperately working to save wild animals orphaned, injured, or displaced by Hurricane Harvey and subsequent Texas flooding. The organizers intend for this effort to help serve as a model for future response efforts.
In just a few days, the Harvey WIldlife Relief Fund has attracted more than a hundred donors and about $9,000 in donations. Before a week will pass on this fund’s launch, donated dollars will be transferred to the accounts of the wildlife rehabilitators who have applied for assistance.
IWRC member and REP for Wildlife founder, Brooke Durham explains, “Our goal with the Harvey Wildlife Relief Fund is to quickly and efficiently get funds transferred over to our licensed wildlife rehabilitators in Texas so that they can continue to provide their vital services to wildlife and indeed to the public in the affected areas.”
Michelle Camara, whose Southern Wildlife Rehab was not impacted by Hurricane Harvey, stepped up to help her colleagues. Camara adds,“Wildlife rehabbers and rescuers in the impacted Gulf Coast region are in desperate need of help. Some operations have been directly damaged by the storm. Some farther north are taking in patients from those directly impacted. Most rehabbers have no means of fundraising, and even those that do cannot focus on anything right now other than admitting and triaging the stream of opossums, baby squirrels, raccoons, snakes and shorebirds arriving at their doors.”
Animal Help Now co-founder and executive director David Crawford adds, “It is clear that coordinated efforts to assist wildlife and wildlife rehabilitators must be in place in advance of anticipated disasters such as floods and hurricanes. This collaborative effort, facilitated in exemplary fashion by John Irvine, President of LoveAnimals.org, will help create a model going forward. We have learned a lot, and Harvey has again demonstrated that wildlife is especially vulnerable to environmental disasters in this new century.”
The team behind this fundraising effort is donating all time and materials, so besides some minor credit card processor fees, 100% of the money is going directly to wildlife rehabilitators and rescuers directly or indirectly impacted by Hurricane Harvey.
Grant funding is open to licensed wildlife rehabilitators and wildlife related registered nonprofit orgs (wildlife centers, home-based wildlife rehabilitators, wildlife hotlines and rescues) who have been directly or indirectly impacted by Hurricane Harvey. The initial grants are modest, but the group will be awarding them frequently, and recipients are allowed to receive multiple grants.
The IWRC is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that protects wildlife and habitat through training and resources on wildlife rehabilitation. The organization’s mission statement is “providing science-based education and resources on wildlife rehabilitation to promote wildlife conservation and welfare worldwide.” 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 protection worldwide. @theiwrc
Animal Help Now, through AHNow.org and free iPhone and Android apps, leverages digital technologies to immediately connect people involved with animal emergencies with the most appropriate time- and location-specific resources and services. Animal Help Now also works to minimize threats to wildlife through education and advocacy. AHNow is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. @animalhelpnow
Southern Wildlife Rehab, Inc. was founded by Michelle Camara in 2014. She has rehabilitated animals for over 30 years. The subpermittees, volunteers, vets and consulting experts from all over the United States help us in our efforts to rescue and rehabilitate native wildlife. We are all 100% unpaid volunteers based in Texas and Louisiana.
Photos (click individual photos for captions and version downloadable by press. Use only with this story)
Wildlife rehabilitation centers are nonprofit or governmental agencies that provide care to injured, ill, and orphaned wild animals and assist area residents with human/wildlife conflicts. Organizational goals and missions focus on the conservation of species, conflict resolution, public education, the relief of animals’ pain and suffering, and the monitoring of anthropogenic issues (influences of humans on nature), including lead ammunition, rodenticides, and climate change.
Wildlife rehabilitators are quick thinkers who work well with people and animals. They have a passion for wildlife, but the job is more far-reaching than feeding and caring for individual animals. Many centers have limited staffs, which require their employees to be jacks-of-all-trades, ranging from construction and maintenance to veterinary nursing and habitat design. On an annual basis, rehabilitators can expect to spend 35% of their time caring for animals, 35% working with the public, 15% handling administrative tasks, and 15% managing the facility. The duties in each of these areas vary seasonally, as do the expected hours worked per week. Spring and summer months see baby animals brought to the centers, with at least 12-hour days of feeding and public education to prevent the kidnapping of young wildlife that do not need assistance. Intakes in summer and, especially, fall involve many immature species venturing out on their own and having accidents with cas, windows, diseases, and poisonings. Winter is traditionally a quieter season, with time to concentrate on records and continuing education, while also caring for a smaller number of juvenile and adult animals that are more critically injured.
One of the most important aspects of this work is interacting with the public. Rehabilitators are ambassadors between wildlife and the public. A conversation with one person is shared with friends and family and will reflect the way they handle wildlife situations in the future. Rehabilitators humanely resolve human/animal conflicts, from squirrels nesting in the attic to woodpeckers that are busy removing termites from the siding of a house and, in the process, damaging that siding. A busy center may get over 100 phone calls on a spring day, which need support from skilled animal caregivers to assess whether an animal is exhibiting natural behavior or if it may need to be admitted. Every animal that stays in the wild and does not need to come into a wildlife rehabilitation center is a success story.
Animal intakes require human interactions and wildlife knowledge. Intake rehabilitators are the public face of the wildlife center. These rehabilitators obtain the necessary history on the animal, gathering information that assists in its diagnosis and care. Often this happens at the center, but in some circumstances this occurs out in the field, where rehabilitators deal with on-site conflict resolution or rescue and capture operations. Members of the public are usually in an emotional state during their initial interactions with a wildlife rehabilitator. They may be scared of the animal, as well as scared for the animal’s welfare. Part of the rehabilitators’ regular job is to counsel these individuals and help them make the best choice for the animal.
The second part of an animal intake is an initial exam and triage. Rehabilitators follow wildlife center protocols, which often includes a quick exam for immediately life-threatening problems, followed by triage care for blood loss, dehydration, and hypothermia. Once the animal has been stabilized, a more thorough examination is completed by a lead wildlife rehabilitator or veterinarian.
Additional animal care duties include follow-up treatments, daily rounds and observations, the feeding of young nursing mammals or the hand feeding of altricial birds (young hatchlings), and assisting with veterinary examinations and surgeries. Some interactions have a strong emotional component (e.g., euthanasia, cadaver management). Rehabilitators perform necropsies and ensure the appropriate disposal of deceased animal remains. Rehabilitators also release healthy wildlife into suitable environments.
Many of the tasks rehabilitators do on a daily basis for animals that are in a center’s care are indirect. Entry-level wildlife rehabilitators can expect to spend most of their time preparing food for the animals and cleaning laundry, dishes, and cages. This unglamourous group of tasks is critical for both the animals’ and human health. Rehabilitators also perform cage management, to ensure that these areas are appropriate to an animal’s age and health and provide proper substrates, enrichment, and exercise options for that animal. A surprising amount of time is spent in food acquisition. This can include foraging for wild insects and plants, raising and caring for farmed insects and rodents, and soliciting grocery stores and other companies for donated produce and seeds.
Rehabilitators do extensive research on and planning for each species that enters the center. For example, when faced with a new species, I have spent countless hours reviewing natural history texts, especially volumes that contain accounts of direct observations, and being on the phone with biologists and other wildlife rehabilitators who have prior experience with that species. Such research supplies information about the diet, caging, and release criteria for each animal brought to the center, and this is an essential aspect of the job for wildlife rehabilitators.
Each individual patient has a treatment plan, created in conjunction with the center’s veterinarian. The treatment plan is the culmination of subjective and objective observations, examinations, and laboratory results. Often rehabilitators’ duties include blood and fecal analyses for parasite identification, packed cell volume, white blood cell counts, and differential blood cell counts, while more in-depth work in this area generally is sent out to a lab by the attending veterinarian.
Wildlife rehabilitators often participate in research, either within the center or in conjunction with a university. Topics may include patient case histories, disease identification, parasite loads and identification, release rates, post-release monitoring, and the success rates of new and novel treatments. For examples of such research, see the Journal of Wildlife Rehabilitation website.
Administrative aspects of wildlife rehabilitation include keeping records, maintaining organizational health (account balancing, public relations, board and staff relations, and the revision and care of organizational documents, such as bylaws and strategic plans), and managing human resources. Most wildlife centers do not have large staffs. Therefore, administrative tasks often are performed by the people caring for the wildlife. Record keeping is done both for the center’s information and for governmental reporting requirements in the United States, wildlife centers are regulated by state departments of natural resources and the US Fish and Wildlife Service. Extensive records are kept on each intake, from data on the citizen who found the animal to the final disposition of the patient. Records must also be kept for controlled drugs licensed to the wildlife center veterinarian, donations received, and staff members. Accounting, budgeting, and fundraising might feel like intrusions, shifting time away from the care of animals, but they are a necessary component in keeping an organization solvent and functioning. Rehabilitators have a responsibility to continue their professional development, in order to maintain an excellent standard of organizational and animal management. Upper-level staff members are also expected to interface with the media and the wildlife center’s board of directors.
Facilities management also is a duty for most wildlife rehabilitators. Expect to do some of the same maintenance work you do at home (e.g., landscaping, maintaining electrical equipment, replacing light bulbs, troubleshooting plumbing, painting). Additionally, you become proficient at basic woodworking while building and repairing cages.
Wildlife rehabilitation is not a 0900-1700 job. The work varies from 4 to 5 hours during the winter to 14-hour days during the summer. Wildlife rehabilitation is an exhilarating and exhausting career choice, requiring total commitment but providing many tangible and intangible rewards. The best ones are to witness a the bird you’ve spent the last five months caring for fly free, or to oversee the release of a beaver that took two years of care before it was independent and ready for the wild.
Successful wildlife rehabilitators have knowledge of and experience in ecology, business, medicine, public policy, and construction. Wildlife rehabilitation is still an emerging field and much can be learned on the ob, but the greater the preparation and the number of skills you have beforehand, the more likely you are to obtain a paid position. Useful hands-on skills include animal handling; knowledge of wild animal behavior; basic wound management; animal rescue techniques; an ability to identify and use basic medical supplies, including common bandage materials, syringes, and needles; experience with basic construction and maintenance tools; expertise in microscopy; an excellent telephone presence; and conflict resolution skills.
As a prospective wildlife rehabilitator, you should not be surprised that the list of required knowledge includes wildlife conservation and medical ethics, natural history, basic pathology, parasitology (especially zoonoses, which are diseases transmitted from animals to humans), anatomy, nutrition, and animal behavior. Often rehabilitation centers are quite small entities, and staff and volunteers must perform multiple tasks. Be prepared to assist with the general management needs of a small nonprofit business, including bookkeeping, fundraising (winter hours maybe be spent submitting numerous grants and planning events to gather support from the local community), human resources, facility maintenance, and all the policies that go with these critical functions. You also will be responsible for understanding and following governmental mandates related to wildlife rehabilitation, at levels ranging from local municipalities to the federal government. For example, the transportation of white-tailed deer between counties might be illegal in one state, to prevent the transmission of chronic wasting disease, or special dispensation might be needed for transport between countries for a Swainson’s hawk that missed migration, due to a car accident.
At this time, a formal education is not necessary in the wildlife rehabilitation field, but you should expect to need a bachelor’s degree or an associate’s degree as a veterinary technician for paid positions. States and provinces may also require a specific level of education certification, or the passing of certain exams before issuing a license to rehabilitate wildlife.
Most wildlife rehabilitators are volunteers. Paid positions do exist, however. The general annual pay range is between $20,000 and $40,000, with senior positions at large facilities having salaries of up to $75,000 per year. The pay scales in wildlife rehabilitation depend on the resources and fundraising ability of each organization.
Since early January Chile has been facing the worst forest fires it has ever seen in modern history, with ~2300 sq miles of land destroyed, thousands of people evacuated and 11 human deaths. The Chilean government has declared state of emergency in several areas, which have been receiving support from official emergency agencies, international help, and volunteers.
This is a catastrophe: it can be described as a chain of wildfires, which have overwhelmed national services. Communities have lost their houses (more that 7,000 are homeless), their livelihoods destroyed (vineyards, tree plantations, etc), and many domestic animals have died or been injured.
A silent victim of these fires are wild animals. Chile does not have the richness of other Latin American countries such as Brazil or Colombia; but the affected area has a unique level of endemism. In fact, the most affected species are the ones with limited displacements, especially amphibians and reptiles which are also the two groups with higher endemism in the country. The Lolol Lizard (Liolaemus confusus), was just recently described as a species and with a species home range of only aprox 5 km2. The entirety of its known distribution has been destroyed by the fires; the species may be facing a real threat of extinction. Luckily, the National Service of Agriculture and Livestock (SAG) together with the National Zoo captured 20 individuals from the fires.
Most wild animals caught in the fire have likely died; amphibians, reptiles, and invertebrates may not be able to escape. But other species can escape. Survivors have been found by the authorities, NGOs and the community. Huge efforts have been initiated to capture these survivors and treat them accordingly. Most of these survivors are represented by mesocarnivores such as foxes (Lycalopex sp.), lesser grisson (Galictis cuja), and small felids. Most of these individuals have been taken to rehabilitation centers such as UFAS and the National Zoo, and have been treated in emergency facilities implemented with the cooperations of the national association of veterinarians (COLMEVET), National Zoo, national association of wildlife veterinarians (AMEVEFAS), NGOs, among others.
All fires are not yet extinguished. At the moment, more than 50 fires are active (original number was over 90 by some accounts); people and animals are still threatened by the flames. Who is to blame? Probably, it is a multifactorial chain that involves humans (both intentional arson and negligent behaviors), the extensive plantations of exotic and pyrogenetic species for wood and forestry, inadequate territorial planning, climate change, and poor/belated response of authorities.
How can you help?
There are many campaigns to receive help and support from national and international individuals. If you want to directly help animals, contact COLMEVET (National Association of Veterinarians), which is the official institution organizing the help for all animals in need. You can donate urgently needed funds via COLMEVET’s international GoFundMe campaign. To donate directly to wild animals, make explicit note of this in the comment field during the donation process.
Update 2/5/17: State of emergency has ended with 8 of the remaining fires being actively combated and the remaining fires extinguished or under control
Reprinted with permission from WRNBC Network News 30(2) of the Wildlife Rehabilitator’s Network of British Columbia
by Ana Mendes
What is an SOP?
A Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) is a set of fixed instructions or steps for carrying out routine operations. These rules provide structure and framework to an organization with multiple employees and/or volunteers.
Protocols: detailed plan of a scientific or medical experiment, treatment or procedure
Policies: course or principle of action adopted or proposed by an organization or individual
Procedure: who, what, where, when and how a task should be completed
Scope: What is the intention/purpose of the procedure
Responsibility: Who performs the procedure
PPE: Necessary safety equipment
Materials: Items needed to perform the procedure
References: Any external resources or guides used
Definitions: Any special terminology used that needs clarification for the user
Procedure: Step-by-step how-to list for completing the task
How to write an SOP:
With pen and paper in hand, sit and think. Go through the motions of the procedure and jot down in point form the steps you are going through from start to finish. Next, open up the template and begin to fill in the ‘easy’ categories (PPE and materials). Type out your quick list in the procedural category. If you can come up with a scope or responsibility at this time, go ahead, though it may be easier to leave for last. Gather your references if needed and start writing out each procedural step in full. Make sure to document your references.
Congratulations, your rough draft is complete! Now you can review it several times, have peers and managers review it, and edit it as needed. When finished, print the final draft, sign it and have the manager sign it so it can be filed away in an SOP manual.
Why develop an SOP?
An SOP will serve as framework for organizational policy – providing direction and structure. Having SOPs will provide written documentation of best practice, recording present knowledge and experience for other rehabilitators. SOPs can build a foundation for job descriptions, training, disciplinary action and performance review.
Building a SOP library will begin to standardize processes, assuring consistent work across employees and volunteers. The resource that SOPs provide reduces questions and improves training practices. These SOPs can be shared across centres, improving best care practices. Expectations of employees can be documented using SOPs, keeping workers accountable and ensuring best patient care by providing step by step instructions.
Start with what you have. Use current protocols or start with small daily tasks that you are confident performing (e.g. cleaning songbird enclosures). Find where your task fits. Not everything needs an SOP; surgeries and rescues cannot be predicted and therefore cannot have SOPs. When a task includes “ifs,” a policy or protocol may be more fitting.
Following her amazing work in Vietnam (read more here), Dr. Ulrike Streicher continued her journey in Cambodia. Along with her work at the University of Oregon, Dr. Streicher is also currently volunteering her time as the veterinarian for the Cascades Raptor Center in Eugene, Oregon. Originally from Germany, Dr. Streicher not only holds a DVM from Freie Universität Berlin, she also accomplished a PhD from Ludwig-Maximilians Universität München. Her dissertation was on the ecology and conservation of the pygmy slow loris (Nycticebus pygmaeus) in Vietnam. She is a member of the European Association of Zoo and Wildlife Veterinarians, the IUCN SSC Reintroduction Specialist Group as well as the Primate Specialist Group. Learn about her experience in Cambodia below.
While I had only intended to spend one year in Vietnam, it had become eight. The Endangered Primate Rescue Center had grown into the region’s leading primate rescue facility, and steps for a reintroduction programme for the first captive bred primates were on the way. However, being the sole veterinarian working in this field in the area, I felt isolated, missed colleagues, and felt the work I was doing was minimal. When there were no new animals arriving, there was often little for a veterinarian to do. Money was always tight and not enough veterinary work to really justify investing in the expansion of the veterinary side. So, when I heard that the much larger Phnom Tamao Rescue Center in Cambodia was looking for an international veterinarian, I bid my forest home in Vietnam farewell.
The Phnom Tamao Rescue Center is located about 30 miles outside Phnom Penh. Originally just the country’s national zoo, the facility also started to take on the role as Cambodia’s main wildlife rescue center. In Cambodia, an NGO called Wildlife Alliance runs a very effective programme to combat illegal wildlife trade. Instead of setting up its own facility, this organization supports the existing national facility with staff and finances so it can act as a rescue center as well. As a result, Phnom Tamao is home to one of the most comprehensive collection of Indochinese animals.
When I joined the Wildlife Alliance team in 2006, this rescue center was extremely busy. It kept about 1,200 animals, from birds to reptiles to all possible mammals, amongst them over 100 Malayan sun bears and Asian black bears due to the cooperation with the NGO Free the Bears. One day, the center would receive 50 hill mynah hatchlings, the next day a sun bear cub, then a tiny elephant with a missing foot or a huge python. Here I was not the only veterinarian but working with a Cambodian colleague. We had a small, reasonably equipped clinic and a quarantine area, fenced off from the rest of the center, which comprised about 20 smaller cages, basins and ponds. Everything had to be flexible to be able to hold maybe a small carnivore this week, perhaps some pigeons or a primate the next. Thanks to nearby Thailand, the necessary veterinary drugs were easily available and we were able to get our laboratory work done at the Institute Pasteur. I was good with the blow dart, but I also learned to appreciate skillful manual handling of wild animals, as anaesthetics were expensive. The dedicated international animal husbandry team working there had done a great job training their Cambodian colleagues, and I had a team, which could capture almost anything without injury to people or animals. The work was fascinating and the days were long, hot, hard and exciting.
Unfortunately, Wildlife Alliance had a fall out with the Cambodian government about financial issues and after I had been there for only one and a half years, the project was suspended and its continuation was unclear. During this time I was offered a wildlife rescue position in Laos and as the future of my position in Cambodia was insecure, I accepted the offer. Wildlife Alliance came to an agreement with the Cambodian government several months later and their valuable work to combat illegal wildlife trade and rescue illegally traded wildlife continues until today without further problems.
Watch out for more to come from Dr. Streicher and her incredible wildlife rescue work in Southeast Asia!
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