In recent years, Lynn Miller, Sue Wylie, and I have written reminders to take time for self care in IWRC’s newsletters. After discussing the recent instances of suicide with a colleague, it occurred to me that IWRC is well placed to do more to speak up for the mental health of wildlife rehabilitators. Over the next few months we will write and share a series of pieces on mental health, including information on self assessment, tips for self care, and resources for centers and individuals to use in maintaining mental health.
As we’ve started the research for this task, CWR Director, Marjan Ghadrdan, and I have found many resources are available. We are excited to bring you some of our favorite resources and learnings. If you’d like to start exploring now visit the AVMA’s wellness site.
There’s a move from corporate giants, including Unilever, Bell, and Prudential, to address mental health in the workplace. Access to large corporation work benefits like in-office fitness centers, day care, and health screenings, are concepts that don’t downscale easily to your average small nonprofit. But we can acknowledge that mental health needs and illnesses are just as real as physical ailments. Whether it is one volunteer or 15 employees, institute a culture at work that openly addresses mental health.
Mental illness affects many people, 4.4% of the global population is thought to suffer from depression alone1. Our community is particularly at risk, as job related factors of compassion fatigue and secondary traumatic stress can increase the risk of developing a mental health problem. These same issues affect emergency response workers and individuals in veterinary and human medicine; fortunately, this commonality means there are good aid resources already developed.
Steps to Take
Understand the unique risks of our work and help employees and volunteers do the same
See the resource section at the bottom for education aids.
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.
Monique Pool is the Founder and Chairman of the Board of Green Heritage Fund Suriname, a nonprofit organization that, among other activities, fosters and rehabilitates orphaned and injured sloths. She was recognized as one of CNN’s Heroes in 2015, a massive accomplishment for not only herself and organization, but as a representative of the wildlife rehabilitation community. Monique graciously allowed IWRC to interview her recently in light of her tremendous recognition and important work in Suriname. To learn more, please go to http://www.greenfundsuriname.org/en/.
1. How did you originally get involved in wildlife rehabilitation?
What I remember is that I was compassionate from a young age in respect of animals that were hurt. I have a vivid recollection of a bird I found, of which the top part of the beak was missing, undoubtedly because of a cat attack. I kept it in a box, and was giving it water, trying to keep it alive. I may have been 9 or 10 years old. I also remember always having liked animals. Then there was a long period in which I was not really all that involved in this type of activity. I studied linguistics, which has no relationship at all to this field, and I never contemplated it as a professional goal to rehabilitate wild animals.
It was purely a coincidence in the beginning with the baby sloth put in my path. This experience made me realize that if you do not teach a baby animal the right skills, you have to look after it for life - just keeping an animal alive and in captivity is not enough. At least in my world it is not. To rehabilitate, you have to teach it skills that it would learn from its mother so that it is able to go back and survive on its own in the wild. For me it was a conscious decision to care for Xenarthrans (mammal group including anteater, sloth, and armadillo species) that would cross my path, because I realized it is a responsibility that is not to be taken lightly. It is a commitment, a sort of a promise to myself, that I keep doing this. I also have set myself a condition for continuing this work, which is that the day I no longer feel emotionally involved in the fate of an animal, I will stop this type of work, because it would mean I have become jaded.
2. What do you think it means about the perception of wildlife that you, a wildlife rehabilitator, were chosen for CNN Hero award?
It shows the increased awareness society has of our responsibility for the animals we affect through deforestation and other human activities.
3. Were you recognized locally for your award, and if so, did it have an impact on the attitudes towards wildlife and rehabilitation in your area?
Yes, for putting Suriname in a positive light in front of a global audience. Now, indeed no one can even try to sell a sloth through Facebook because of the online public in Suriname. They will immediately start reporting it, attacking these people on the online platform, saying it is illegal to sell a protected species, they start calling, etc. People phone asking about what to do when they see one crossing the road. People realize they need specialized attention and so do not try to care for them themselves, but report it to the Zoo or animal protection society and then it comes to us.
4. What is the greatest threat facing the wildlife you rescue and rehab in your region/country?
Deforestation/urbanization for housing and raising cattle. And then hunting.
5. What are the biggest challenges to rehabilitation and successful release in your region/country?
Lack of a natural environment to slowly rehabilitate the animals to ensure they are capable of surviving on their own. That is why we are now building the center to do this in a natural environment.
6. When the job and needs of so many animals becomes overwhelming and seemingly endless, how do you cope and find motivation to keep going?
I have South American friends who have said they also get depressed sometimes, so I know I am not alone in this feeling. The other thing is I want to be certain I have done everything I can for the animals, that they have had the best help, got second opinions and anything we can do. It still surprises me that there is seemingly no end to this and that is a big challenge. Support from my family, friends, and the wonderful volunteers I work with keep me going.
7. Sloths have become popular on social media sites in the form of photos, videos, and memes. There is also a demand for them in the pet trade and for tourist photo opportunities. How do you think wildlife rehabilitators can best address or consider the risks of promoting our necessary hands-on work with wildlife, especially popular or attractive species, without unintentionally supporting a desire within the public to be hands-on with them as well?
Always have a clear message that wild animals belong in the wild and that the reason you are keeping them in a unnatural environment and handling them is just a stage in the rehabilitation process to get them back in to the wild and never compromise on this. Keep promoting that wildlife belongs in the wild.
8. Assuming wildlife rehabilitation will always be needed to some degree and play a role in the welfare and conservation of wild animals, what would you like to see change for field of wildlife rehabilitation?
I would like to see a platform, maybe species specific - which may exist but I am not aware of - for wildlife rehabilitators to talk and contact each other. I am only now being contacted by other rehabilitators because I have been recognized, and they have questions about how to care for an animal.
A definite change I would like to see is more funding is made available for this type of work, also from an international level like the UN or GEF, for wildlife rehabilitation, because it is a worldwide problem caused by humans. This means that humanity takes on the responsibility for funding this type of work, because most rehabilitators do it out of their love for animals, and often fund themselves, although they are clearly providing a social benefit.
Please share an early/childhood experience that was pivotal to your personal relationship to wildlife.
My father and mother were active and adventurous, respected all animals and nature in general. We loved to be outdoors. I remember stopping the car to watch snakes and tarantulas cross the road. The brown bears were understood to be beautiful and respected for their power and intelligence. For a time, we lived on our grandparents property outside of Yosemite and were taught that a particular outcropping of rocks was to be avoided because the rattlesnakes lived there and came out to sun themselves. No one would have ever killed them, we simply learned how to avoid confrontations with wildlife, which I’ve carried my entire life. I remember being mesmerized by spider webs and the list goes on and on. We were only allowed to watch programs on television about nature, other than the occasional sporting events. My father was especially curious about nature and was my greatest influence, but my mother’s side of the family is Native American which I believe also influenced the way we lived.
How did you initially become involved with IWRC and why did you choose to become involved on a board level?
I had begun transporting for Pacific Wildlife Care after being introduced to the organization when I found 7 young opossums on our property. I helped raise them until they went to a rehabilitator. I joined, and at my first training with PWC, I heard from the instructor that there are two organizations we should join, IWRC and NWRA. I joined both immediately.
I had a conversation with Kai Williams, IWRC’s Executive Director, about my history, and when I mentioned that I had been an accountant, Kai’s eyes lit up while she explained that their current Treasurer was going to be stepping down due to other commitments. We discussed my joining the board, and I was happy to be able to support IWRC in this way.
Describe a skill that you have that has been surprisingly useful to your work as a wildlife rehabilitator? (or as an IWRC board member?)
I feel that having been a mother has brought me a sense of selflessness when faced with a vulnerable animal who needs help; my history of owning a retail business has helped me to understand how to work with the public and with volunteers within our center, and my profession of accounting has helped me to understand the needs of running a business, even a non-profit rehabilitation center and now in helping IWRC as Treasurer.
Describe a project or accomplishment that you consider to be the most significant in your career.
I feel that I accomplished what I have dreamed of my entire life, working with animals and living in the country. I am proud of the many steps I’ve taken in life to get here. Helping animals makes me feel vital and alive.
If you could choose, who would you have as a mentor?
Dr. Jane Goodall has always been my idol. I believe she came along at a time when I was young and impressionable. She made me think that I wanted to do something like she was doing. I didn’t know where that would lead, but the fact that she was doing what I admired, inspired me.
If you were to do something else professionally, what would it be?
I love what I’m doing and wouldn’t do anything different; however, I also love art and would love to paint and make more pottery.
If you could be a wild animal, which would you be?
I would love to be a brown pelican (Pelecanus occidentalis) - to be able to fly over the ocean. Being in love with brown pelicans and loving the ocean has informed that choice.
What is the thing for which you have waited in line the longest?
For a train in India. I don’t mind waiting in lines - you are in a perfect position to watch people, which I love to do.
What excites you so much that it keeps you awake the night before?
I would say that worrying about an animal’s health is the #1 cause of sleepless nights; however, on a positive note, it would have to be interactions with wildlife such as my recent whale excursions in Baja California.
Describe any companion animals that you share your home and life with.
I have 3 rescued domestic geese (2 were attacked by dogs at a local lake, and 1 was obviously a hand raised pet that had been dumped at a lake); 8 Rhode Island red chickens; 4 dogs (2 border collie mixes who protect my other animals, 1 lap dog and 1 black and tan coon hound); 1 rescued black cat and 2 budgies who were found hatched this year at a friend's aviary (not a rescue, but also not purchased).
One of IWRC’s fabulous volunteers is Dr. Ulrike Streicher DVM, a wildlife veterinarian and currently Courtesy Research Associate at the University of Oregon. Dr. Streicher has spent many years in Southeast Asia rescuing and rehabilitating a variety of wildlife and will be sharing some of her story through a series of blogs with us. Enjoy the first segment on her time in Vietnam, a country that was then and still is now an epicenter for illegal wildlife trade.
I started my wildlife career in Vietnam in 1997 as the zoological advisor of the then newly established governmental wildlife rescue center at Soc Son near Hanoi. In 1992 the country had issued its first laws to protect wild animals. Shortly after they realized that through this step they ended up with lots of animals confiscated from illegal keeping and trade, which they needed to take care of. Responding to this need, the Vietnamese government opened an all species rescue center near Hanoi in 1996. Having no technical capacity to deal with the incoming load of animals, the government looked for an international zoological advisor and through a couple of lucky coincidences I ended up in this position. It was a challenge to say the least.
Having little more than four cages, we received up to 4000 kg of animals in a single day. Macaques, bears, civets, pangolins, porcupines, monitors, turtles, snakes and birds arrived in an endless row and in large numbers. To provide very basic emergency veterinary care, ensure at least roughly species appropriate husbandry and prevent disastrous releases was the entire scope of my work. But still the majority of animals died. After nine months I wrote an open report about the situation at the center and the incoming wildlife trade to the government. The intended project duration was one year, but we decided that lots had to change in the way the law was implemented before it would make sense to continue this project.
At that time there were no wildlife veterinarians in Vietnam, and I had over the last year already acted as on call veterinarian for the Endangered Primate Rescue Center (EPRC) at Cuc Phuong National Park, a rescue center run by Frankfurt Zoological Society. So I left Soc Son and moved to the national park and for the coming eight years I worked as the center’s veterinarian. In 1998, it was home to about 40 langurs and gibbons, most of them representatives of species kept nowhere else in the world.
Vietnam is home to 25 different primate taxa and more than 70 percent of them listed on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Taxa as Endangered or Critically Endangered. The goal of the center is to establish a captive breeding population with trade confiscated representatives of these rare species and later on release captive-bred offspring into the wild in order to re-enforce depleted wild populations. The EPRC focuses its attention on the large group of leaf eating primates of the country – the langurs. Langurs are very sensitive primates and notoriously difficult to keep.
They feed solely on leaves and seeds, which they digest in their large stomachs with the help of bacteria. There was little experience with their keeping and veterinary care, and only very few species had been bred in captivity. On my arrival, the available veterinary equipment consisted of a box full of donated drugs, syringes and instruments and a quarantine building was under construction. So I had the opportunity to set up a proper veterinary station and establish the necessary protocols. Aside from langurs, the center cared for gibbons and the nocturnal lorises. We received about one animal per month, confiscated from hunters or traders by the authorities. The primates were often severely injured from traps or by hunting dogs, and had spent days or weeks in the trade or on transport. After capture they had received either no or entirely inappropriate food and usually no water. The most difficult part of work was to treat the inevitable metabolic problems and re-establish functional digestion. The stress of being separated from their groups was also considerable.
In particular the colourful douc langurs kept dying within days after their arrival. Adult females initially almost never made it; not an ideal start if one intends to set up a captive breeding population as the center aimed to. I started to conduct regular necropsies and this helped us learn from each failure and the survival rate increased over the years dramatically.
Having no television, Internet, or telephone left us all with lots of time; night came in the tropics shortly after six all year round and evenings were long. The head of the rescue center was a passionate scientist, and always encouraged others to study wherever there was an opportunity. A result of these long evenings, I ended up writing a PhD on pygmy lorises. After all, they were awake and studying them was a great way to fill empty evenings, and to date they remain probably my favourite primate species. In contrast to the langurs, lorises pose no major veterinary challenge, but they were until recently a poorly known species. These nocturnal animals weigh only between 250 and 350 g, live largely solitary, feed among other items on gum and insects, display hibernation and torpor, have a venomous bite and are a very specialized primate. Their cute appearance makes them a popular item in the wildlife pet market and local beliefs assign various medicinal properties to their different body parts. I implemented the first monitored release of pygmy lorises and the nights spent in the forest observing these secretive animals were very special. Aside from the work in the primate rescue center, I assisted a number of other projects in the country, which dealt with the rehabilitation and placement of confiscated wild animals. As the awareness and law enforcement in the country slowly increased, so did the number of confiscated animals requiring care. Training local staff in the handling of animals and basic rehabilitation methods was an urgent need, so there was always a lot to do. I had to find funding for the veterinary work myself, and for many years it was generously provided by the Eva Mayr-Stihl Foundation.
Stay tuned for more blogs from Dr. Ulrike Streicher!
The IWRC has seen many presidents in the last 40 years, all with their unique perspectives, well-established reputations and drive to pursue the organization’s mission of providing education and resources to support the field of wildlife rehabilitation.
I have some very big shoes to fill as the president. I remember being brought on the board in 2008 as the youngest board member at the time to represent new rehabilitators to the field. This opportunity was challenging but allowed me access to a network of experienced wildlife rehabilitators, which would prove to be invaluable and have a great influence in the care and protocols I established for the birds we admit to Le Nichoir.
Even after being in this field for over 10 years (not long compared to some of our members!) as both a rehabilitator and wildlife biologist I still consider myself a novice. There is always more to learn; whether you are new to the field, or have been practicing for a very long time, we are constantly learning new information and changing accordingly. Our passion for wildlife drives us to learn more, to improve our work and to teach others what we know. The ultimate result is to offer wildlife casualties a more humane, appropriate form of care that means we will be releasing better prepared, more viable animals back into the wild and we will be confident that our job was well done.
Projects such as the revision of courses including Basic Wildlife Rehabilitation, developing new resources and increasing networking among individuals in the field are just some of ways IWRC is supporting its members and contributing to the bigger picture of wildlife conservation.
IWRC is the international hub of wildlife rehabilitation, and I look forward to continuing to work hard, contribute to these projects, and represent the IWRC the best that I can so that we can increase our visibility and continue to support rehabilitators worldwide.
The board and I are always available to you to help you in any way that we can. Do not hesitate to contact us through the office at 866.871.1869 and visit our bios on our website www.theiwrc.org
White-nose syndrome (WNS), a fungal pathogen caused by Pseudogymnoascus (formerly Geomyces) destructans, was first identified in 2006, and has since been associated with the deaths of over 6 million bats here in North America. This devastating fungal infection may be present even when no obvious signs are seen. Therefore, we as rehabbers must be aware of any potential infection and act accordingly with isolation and care to prevent the build up or spreading of the fungal spores within our facilities. The U.S. Geological Survey's National Wildlife Health Center has tested the use of UV light to detect WNS in bats. The good news is that by simply evaluating the bat using a UV light, nearly 99% of WNS cases were detected, and 100% of bats that tested negative, were indeed, negative for the disease. 1 That means that we can use this tool with confidence as we admit bats to our care.
Buy an appropriate UV light. I checked and there are suitable models ranging from about $20 to several hundred dollars on Amazon. Be sure that the unit you buy works at the required light range of 385nm. Use this in a darkened area and explore all surfaces of the bat for signs of orange-yellow fluorescence indicating microscopic lesions associate with WNS as seen in the following photo.
If you have a positive result, your bat care should include isolation and appropriate cleaning to ensure you do not have a build up of these spores. The https://www.whitenosesyndrome.org/ website has a decontamination section which offers some great information, however, your standard cleaning agents may also be effective against fungal spores. So simply check the Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) for your cleaning agent’s range of action.
So in summary, this fungus is extremely widespread and any bat admitted, especially during the winter months, may be contaminated with microscopic lesions, which means every bat should be screened for WNS. Many of these bats are now members of shrinking populations and each animal represents an increasing percentage of the gene pool of that species, so we as rehabbers must do the very best for these animals as individuals. Also get to know your local researchers and become involved in the monitoring of the local bats. You will be able to bring your skills to the team and help when impacted animals require professional care. Finally, buy a UV light so you can simply screen your patients, not just on intake, but during the period of their care to ensure that if there are indeed developing lesions, you can act promptly, reducing any build-up of spores, and preventing it’s spread to others in your care. This is a great new tool for the rehabbers kit.
Reference: 1Gregory G. Turner, Carol Uphoff Meteyer, Hazel Barton, John F. Gumbs, DeeAnn M. Reeder, Barrie Overton, Hana Bandouchova, Tomáš Bartonička, Natália Martínková, Jiri Pikula, Jan Zukal, David S. Blehert. Nonlethal Screening of Bat-Wing Skin With the Use of Ultraviolet Fluorescence to Detect Lesions Indicative of White-Nose Syndrome. Journal of Wildlife Diseases, 2014; 140522114529005 DOI: 10.7589/2014-03-058
The rescuers of a mourning dove they found under a chair on their back porch approach a wildlife center. They are initially skeptical of the standards of the facility after observing that the building is an old mobile home and the outdoor caging looks homemade. However, the rescuers are pleased when they enter – the facility appears tidy and smells clean. They are greeted by a volunteer who is entering information on a well-kept log, and another volunteer busily mopping the hall in front of a closed door marked “Infirmary.” The volunteer at the desk puts on gloves and takes the bird into a room adjoining the lobby marked “Intake: Rehabilitators Only,” notifying a woman donning a lab coat that a new patient has arrived.
In another location, a rescuer confidently takes a nest of baby squirrels into a building that looks like a veterinary clinic with a large "Wildlife Rehabilitation Center" sign. She is not greeted, so she calls for attention down a dark hall. The building smells of animal waste. A volunteer appears from a room containing several animals in cages, eating a sandwich. There are what appear to be feces on her sleeve, and her shoes are caked in mud. The volunteer puts the squirrels in a box and puts them in a closet with other boxes, and asks the rescuer to fill out a form that looks to be smeared with blood stains before shutting the door behind her.
While these examples may seem like a lesson in first impressions, the purpose is anything but. Busy wildlife rehabilitators often rely on support volunteers to perform “busy work,” such as cleaning cages, sweeping, mopping, and doing the laundry. However, these activities are just as important as delivering medical care to wildlife patients. A healthy wildlife rehabilitation facility is not characterized by the structure of the workplace. In fact, it is a comprehensive zoonoses prevention plan that deserves more than relegating tasks to volunteers.
Zoonoses are infections that pass from animals to humans. A majority of existing zoonotic infections are associated with domestic animals (pets, farm animals, etc.) and are well-known, predictable, and curable. However, zoonoses associated with wildlife can be vague in presentation and life-threatening. Prevention of zoonotic disease consists of measures taken to reduce the risk of transmission of disease.
Personal habits eliminate or provide a barrier against zoonoses, including hand washing and use of personal protective equipment (PPE) such as gloves, gowns, masks, and special clothing. It is important to remove PPE after use to prevent them from becoming fomites (inanimate objects that harbor a pathogen, only to be transmitted to a person who touches the item later). Take gloves off immediately after touching an animal to avoid transmitting pathogens from the gloves to other objects. Remove outer clothing (such as lab coats or shoes) after caring for an animal or its environment and wash them separately from other clothing. Because of the large number of pathogens that can be spread through the fecal-oral route of transmission, human food and beverages must be stored and consumed in an area away from the animal care areas.
The process of cleaning and disinfecting removes zoonotic pathogens from the environment. Cleaning is the most basic step. It involves removal of trash and debris from the area (“tidying”), changing soiled bedding and caging, dirt or contaminants from surfaces, and washing food and secretions from feeding utensils (including syringes and feeding tubes).
Disinfecting is a chemical method to eliminate pathogens from objects. Disinfecting must always be preceded by cleaning because most chemicals are inactivated by organic material. Disinfection is complete once the surface has been thoroughly air-dried.
Similar to the fact that there is not a single medication that cures every illness, there is not a single disinfectant that eradicates every pathogen. Selecting a product for disinfecting is not easy. Consulting veterinary practices for advice is as necessary a component for managing the physical environment as is assuring animal treatment protocols are correct.
Cleaning occurs on a frequent basis to prevent zoonotic diseases from gaining a hold on the care environment. However, disinfecting is done based on the area or item. For instance, feeding utensils can be cleaned between uses on the same animal, but must be disinfected after the last use of the day. Caging may be cleaned daily, but disinfection is required when the enclosure is heavily contaminated or after the occupant is moved out of the cage. Despite having the best intentions and practice, humans can spread pathogens during daily activities in the rehabilitation center. Using disinfectants to mop floors on a daily basis greatly reduces this risk.
So, just as a wildlife rehabilitator would never neglect the care of an animal, never neglect the care of the workplace. The prevention of zoonoses is rooted in the cleaning and disinfecting of the facilities and equipment of the wildlife rehabilitation center. Consistent application of the steps of a comprehensive zoonoses prevention process supports the overall mission of wildlife rehabilitation. At the same time, this purposeful work by dedicated support volunteers provides a great first impression for rescuers who bring in the patients.
A fire incident that occurred on the afternoon of August 7 near Spencer Butte, Eugene, Oregon caused a gutted house, several burnt vehicles and charred trees. Fortunately, no one was injured in the fire and firefighters managed to prevent the fire from spreading. Located northeast of Spencer’s Butte, Cascades Raptor Center (CRC) decided to execute their evacuation plan the moment Executive Director Louise Shimmel saw a billowing plume of smoke a quarter mile away from the center.
How important is it to have a disaster preparedness plan?
"Extremely important," said Shimmel. CRC's detailed emergency action plan was put together by a graduate student at the University of Oregon who had past work experience with Red Cross. The Eugene Fire Department also inspected the center and gave their feedback, such as regulating parking spaces onsite for emergency vehicles and installing a staging area for staff and volunteers to meet and decide the next course of action during an emergency. According to Lane County's Fire Safety Standards for Roads and Driveways, driveways should be at least 20 feet wide to allow access for fire fighting vehicles and turnaround as well, which CRC already has.
"In general consideration of state fire prevention guidelines, there were some things we could do and others we could not. We try to maintain a 13-foot high ceiling for fire trucks to get in but we don't have a 30-foot perimeter around the buildings," Shimmel said. "We want a comfortable habitat here for birds but that puts us more at risk.
As part of implementing the action plan, CRC's volunteers helped build an emergency shed (generously funded by one of their volunteers) that stored supplies such as walkie-talkies and collapsible carriers for animals; marked drawers containing vital information and set up a backup procedure for their computers. Quarterly assessment checks on all batteries were carried out as well.
"It's kind of hard to do a fire drill when you know that it isn't real. But in this case, it was real," Shimmel explained.
On the day of the fire, there were only eight people at the center; after activating the phone tree, another 19 volunteers and staff were there within 20 minutes to help with the evacuation. CRC’s Education Director, Kit Lacy, directed the evacuation plan: sprinklers on the side of the property toward the fire were turned on; with some 100 birds on site, dozens of carriers and transport boxes were put together and set up with towels and with sheets to cover them; any equipment with gasoline and any combustible items like oxygen tanks were moved away from the buildings; critical file and medical supply drawers were emptied, packed, and loaded into vehicles; computers were backed up.
Shimmel was grateful for the efficient fire and police response during the incident, and particularly their understanding and support of the magnitude of CRC’s evacuation requirements. Some of the roads leading to the butte were blocked to prevent traffic from entering, but police allowed responding volunteers through. A police officer was stationed near the driveway to CRC, keeping staff and volunteers in contact with the fire response effort. Just as volunteers were about to start loading birds into carriers, the police officer informed them the fire was contained, and staff decided to stand down. From start of activating the phone tree to the finish of putting away all the carriers, files, equipment, the whole exercise took about two hours. Staff had previously estimated – though without a fire drill to be sure – that it would take about two hours to get everybody ready to leave, depending on how many birds were on site and how many staff and volunteers were here to assist.”
What could have been done differently?
"Part of our plan is to, if necessary, simply release any flighted bird. When it came down to contemplating that, it’s clear that we would need to install release hatches on bird cages, instead of opening the doors and expecting them to fly down from 20 feet to 8 feet and then fly out," Shimmel said.
What should all wildlife centers have in place?
Shimmel stressed the importance of a disaster preparedness plan for other situations (not merely fires) and having supplies set aside for emergencies – supplies that are not for daily use, but only for emergencies, even though that requires duplication. Regular checks should be done on batteries for electrical equipment such as walkie-talkies. A reciprocal agreement with other rehabilitation centers within the same area should be planned in case animals need to be held at another shelter if the center is not safe or has been damaged. Smoke detectors should be installed in all buildings along with frequent checks on the batteries.
The next imperative step is to have designated organization staff that are aware of the emergency plan and who know how to initiate it during an emergency. "We have staff here all the time along with volunteers, so they will know our plans and how to put it in action," Shimmel said. Prevention is always better than cure – she contacts the non-emergency police and fire dispatch whenever she or anyone from CRC hears sirens nearby or a helicopter in the area, just to make sure it is not a hazardous incident that will affect the center.
At the end of the day, Shimmel was thankful that the fire did not affect the center directly and that the preparedness plan worked out despite not testing it out previously – post-event evaluations collected from everyone who assisted have also led to some good suggestions on how to improve the plan. "We had a good crew here who knew what to do. Everyone was so shaky afterwards. Adrenaline is tough," she said. "It was, in the end, a good experience."
As August 30 is Frankenstein Day, we thought of an animal that checks all the boxes for being unorthodox and nature's most unique specimen – the platypus (Ornithorhynchus anatinus).
The platypus is a monotreme and one of the two that are only found in Australia, the other being the short-beaked echidna. The platypus has water-repellent fur, webbed feet and a leathery bill similar to a duck's. They are difficult to observe in the wild because of their aquatic and nocturnal nature. Platypuses hunt underwater and are bottom feeders. Hence, one of their biggest threats is pollution and rubbish clogging the waterways especially in urban areas.
According to Australia Zoo Wildlife Hospital veterinarian Dr. Claude Lacasse, wildlife rehabilitators in Australia require a specialized permit with appropriate training and facilities to rehabilitate platypus. Because they are heat-sensitive and have a low body temperature, they do not thrive in temperatures higher than 30°C/86°F.
Platypuses can get very stressed in care because of their shy nature. They tend to expend their energy looking for means to escape in captivity. A quiet and stress-free environment with minimal disturbances is needed to ensure they do not experience complications from stress. Platypuses do not bite as they have no teeth, but adult males have venomous spurs on their hind legs, which can cause severe pain in humans that even powerful pain relief medications cannot alleviate. However, infant and juvenile platypus are generally easier to handle and can be managed similarly to other mammal species.
According to Dr. Paul Eden, senior veterinarian at Healesville Sanctuary in Zoos Victoria, platypuses can be picky eaters as they rely on their ability to sense electrical activities from their food items in order to locate food. Water access is provided to platypuses in rehabilitation for them to perform their natural behaviors of swimming and food foraging. This also aids them to groom and maintain the health of their coat themselves.
Dr. Lacasse points out that Australia Zoo Wildlife Hospital usually receives only 4-5 platypuses in a year, mostly when the young disperse from their maternal burrows and hunt by themselves. The hospital rehabilitates young platypuses that become anemic and weak because of ticks. According to Dr. Lacasse, sometimes the platypuses are too far gone for rehabilitation, but anti-parasitics, vitamins and good nutrition strengthens them enough to be released eventually. In Healesville Sanctuary, an average of 2-4 platypuses are rehabilitated because they often get entangled in discarded fishing lines and nets and elastic bands, according to Dr. Eden. These items can restrict their movements, preventing them from feeding and causing infected wounds.
Although the platypus is not an endangered species, wildlife experts are concerned that their populations are waning due to habitat destruction and illegal trapping. Run off of fertilizers and pesticides into waterways can affect invertebrate organisms living in creeks and dams, which in turn affects the platypus because these are important food items. Changes in flood patterns can cause erosion to river banks and sometimes flooding burrows, affecting the waterways. Also, entanglement in litter is an issue for platypuses that live in urban waterways. According to Dr. Eden, Zoos Victoria encourages people who fish to discard unwanted fishing lines by installing bins along popular fishing spots. Waste items such as rubber bands and plastic bottle rings should also be cut through to prevent animal trappings.