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Wildlife Rehabilitators Operational Guidance for COVID-19

“Coronavirus spike protein structure” by National Institutes of Health (NIH) is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

The IWRC and our partners have gathered some advice for wildlife rehabilitation operations in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic. The situation is fluid, and our responses must be agile to align. We will work to update this post as additional guidance and tools become available.

Abbreviations used throughout: Member of the Public – MOP, Personal Protective Equipment – PPE

 

Biosecurity Best Practices

Biosecurity and cleanliness are vital to the prevention of disease transmission. Make sure that you are up to date on recommendations and have protocols in place to safeguard yourself and others.

  • Put public health first and follow government guidelines 
  • Wear personal protective equipment and change it often
  • Don’t allow public out of the car, just transfer the animal and get information by phone or other electronic means
  • Have arrivals come to the center by appointment only, or at least phone ahead
  • Limit volunteers/staff on each shift
  • Check expiration dates and ensure proper dilution of disinfectants
  • Disinfect surfaces at end of each shift
  • Limit use of paper and other fomites (fomites are objects or materials which are likely to carry infection, such as clothes, utensils, and furniture)

 

Community Considerations

Community can be one of our most powerful resources in trying times. If you are part of a team, reassure staff and volunteers that their safety is top priority. If you are a home rehabber, or part of a network, communicate via phone or video calls and check in on one another. Let your donors and community know what they can do to help you. If you cannot receive patients take this time to work on development, education projects, or your own well being.

  • Have clear guidelines in place for volunteers and employees. If many of your volunteers are in a high risk category your guidelines may include letting volunteers self-select not to come in because: 1) they are at higher risk 2) they are caring for someone that is sick or of higher risk. Examples of other “adaptive” policies:
    • When volunteers are in the facility only one person can be in a particular area for that day/shift etc and then the area is wiped down. 
    • Volunteers are in teams that do not shift. If Anna and Sally are on a team today—they should be together tomorrow too. Anna should not be with Charles the next day. If someone from the team falls ill, then you replace the entire team. 
  • Reach out to other rehabilitators! 
  • Share resources if you possible
  • If veterinary clinics or other organizations direct people to you for drop off, make sure they are aware of new protocols and can communicate those to MOPs
  • Update your community and donors 

 

Capacity Considerations

Rehabilitators are all too keenly aware that resources are limited. During times of crisis taking space to evaluate and formulate a plan is crucial to continued successful operation. While it may be stressful to consider worst case scenarios, a plan helps mitigate the stress associated with disasters.

  • Do your best to ensure sufficient resources are on hand (people, food, bedding, cleaning, medical supplies). Don’t hoard beyond what you will use.
  • Create alternative plans if critical resources are scarce or missing (eg access to ¼ people, low on food for squirrels, out of euthanasia solution/access to vet)
    • Triaging cases
    • Transferring cases
    • Limiting intakes
  • Consider how many animals can you care for with your current staff/volunteers and resources? What is your plan if intakes increase?
  • Consider what should happen if you become ill? Who is the emergency contact? If you are a single rehabilitator – who will care for the animals?

 

Intake Procedures 

Does the animal actually need to come in? Our pre-intake assessments are more important than ever to avoid patient overload and unnecessary contact. 

  • Normal procedure: Assess the health of the animal during triage exam. Have the member of public wait in a different room; if the animal doesn’t need intake, have them return the animal back to its original location.
  • Adapted procedure: Use cell phone video to assess the animal’s need for intake before the member of public transports the animal.

Intake Information

  • Normal procedure: The member of the public writes information on paper form.
  • Adapted procedure: When the member of public reaches your location have them call or text. They should not leave their car. Text or email them a link to a Google Form version of your intake or obtain that information via phone and transcribe it.

Transfer of animal

  • Normal procedure: Varies
  • Adapted procedure: (Animal Help Now has additional suggestions!) Members of the public should not leave their car, or if walking, the sidewalk. When they reach your location have them call or text. While wearing appropriate PPE,  you pick up the animal transport container (cardboard box best) and bring it into your facility. Thank the person by phone or text.

 

Restrictions on movement

Know your terminology. Shelter in place, self-quarantine, lock-down, essential services – these terms have different interpretations in different jurisdictions. Know what they mean for your jurisdiction. Can you travel between home and work? If not, are you prepared to transfer all animals or have people stay on site?

 

IWRC extends our thanks to the centers that have shared their practices:

Native Songbird Care

RSPCA

St. Melangell’s Small Mammal Sanctuary

 

Keep an eye out for more information – here on our blog and on our social media accounts regarding this unprecedented, developing situation. We will continue to communicate with our partners to bring you the most accurate and useful information regarding COVID-19 and its impacts on the wildlife rehabilitation community.

Stay safe!   

 

How are you doing? Let us know by answering this survey

 

Australia

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.

Rufous scrub-bird illustration (C) P. Latas

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.

Noisy scrub-bird illustration (C) P. Latas

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.

Facebook user Renae Bruce posted this photo of her brother-in-law holding one of the seven koala’s he rescued in the bush after the fire passed in Mallacoota.

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.

Twitter user @LuckayyLucario maps showing Sep-Dec burned areas comparing 2016, 2017, 2018 and 2019 using NASA data as of Jan 1, 2020.

 

IF YOU CONTINUE TO SCROLL DOWN, YOU WILL SEE DISTURBING IMAGES OF WILDLIFE AFFECTED BY FIRE

 

 

 

From CentralTelegraph.com.au A young girl looks at the burnt body of dead kangaroo while walking her dog along a scorched property at Mallacoota. Picture: David Caird

 

Facebook user Luke McCrone posted this photo, saying “Just went for a walk along the beach at #Mallacoota literally hundreds of dead birds washing up. The toll these fires has taken on our wildlife is devastating.”

 

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

1. Kookaburra
2. Rainbow Lorikeet
3. unidentified
4. Top Knot Pigeon
5. unidentified
6. New Holland Honeyeater
7. Whipbird
8. Gang-gang Cockatoo
9. Silvereye
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. 

 

Facebook user Nick Ritar, kookaburra.

 

Facebook user Nick Ritar, rainbow lorikeet.

 

Facebook user Nick Ritar, unidentified (pigeon/dove family).

 

Facebook user Nick Ritar, topknot pigeon.

 

Facebook user Nick Ritar, unidentified.

 

Facebook user Nick Ritar, New Holland honeyeater.

 

Facebook user Nick Ritar, whipbird.

 

Facebook user Nick Ritar, gang-gang cockatoo.

 

Facebook user Nick Ritar, silvereye.

 

Facebook user Nick Ritar, barn owl.

 

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   

 

Promote mental health in the work (volunteer) place

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.

If you are in urgent need of help please contact a hotline immediately. Many countries have national hotlines. If you are in the US click here to chat with someone right now.

Considering Workplace Mental Health

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.

Encourage self assessment

Provide resources for self-care and set a culture where self-care is a priority

  • Encourage walks
  • Put out a coloring book
  • Provide a ‘no wildlife’ break area
  • Create a venting wall or opt for online and create a safe space for venting
  • Establish breaks
  • Buddy system
  • Set up a self care board where people can share ideas
  • Hire (or find a volunteer!) professional to talk to people one on one or run a group session
  • Set up an employee assistance program (EAP)

What resources do you have in your rehabilitation clinic? Share with director@theiwrc.org and we’ll see about posting in the a full list later in the year.

Resources

Pamphlets and Tools

    Workplace Stress

    Coping for Emergency Responders

    Self Care Pocket Card

 

Courses

    When Caring Hurts: Managing Compassion Fatigue (free!)

    Building Your Balance: Understanding Compassion Fatigue and Stress Management

    Compassion Fatigue Strategies

 

Books

    Compassion Fatigue in the Animal Care Community

 

  1. Depression and Other Common Mental Disorders: Global Health Estimates. Geneva: World Health Organization; 2017. Licence: CC BY-NC-SA 3.0 IGO.

The What, Why, and How of SOPs

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.

Alternative paperwork:
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.

Helpful hints:

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.

WRA Example SOP on fecal flotations

Monique Pool: Sloth Rehabilitator

Globe with country of Suriname in green (north coast of South America)
Country of Suriname (in green) Photo Credit: Artwin Wikipedia

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.

Pre-release examination. Photo Credit: Monique Pool
A sloth physical examination. Photo Credit: Monique Pool

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.

Heavy equipment removing trees
Equipment removing trees in a Suriname forest.

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?

Monique Pool holds a sloth under its armpits as she carries it to release tree. View of Monique and sloth faces.
Readying a sloth for release. Photo Credit: Monique Pool

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.

Sloth with long red fur climbing a tree - view of back of sloth.
A just released sloth climbs a tree. Photo Credit: Monique Pool

Ulrike Streicher: Primate Veterinarian in Vietnam

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.

Wildlife Officer holding gibbon while Dr Streicher administers first aid.
Emergency wound care in the field during a confiscation.

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.

Red shanked douc langur (Pygathrix nemaeus) with chain and rope around neck with injuries to right hand eating a vegetable.
Red shanked douc langur (Pygathrix nemaeus) before confiscation.

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!

Close up image of face and shoulders of red shanked douc langur (Pygathrix nemaeus) eating leaves
Red shanked douc langur (Pygathrix nemaeus) eating while in care at rescue center.

Filling the President’s Shoes

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.

Sue Wylie examining a mourning dove
IWRC Board President Sue Wylie examines a mourning dove (Zenaida macroura) in her role as Executive Director of Le Nichoir in Quebec, Canada.

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

A new tool for bat rehabbers

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.

USGS White Nose UV image
Bat wing lit with hand held UV light showing fluorescence of lesions in yellow. Image Credit USGS1.

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.

The care and rehabilitation of animals infected with WNS are well covered in the following two documents; Rehabilitating Bats with White Nose Syndrome, and Protocol for Wildlife Rehabilitator Response to Hibernating Bats Affected with White-Nose Syndrome.

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

Good Housekeeping

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.

Surviving an Emergency

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.

Emergency transport boxes ready to go. When not in use they are stored flat in the emergency shed. Photo credit: Cascades Raptor Center
Emergency transport boxes ready to go. When not in use they are stored flat in the emergency shed. Photo credit: Cascades Raptor Center

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.

CRCFireOver
Fire alert over! The Cascades Raptor Center staff and volunteers resting before getting everything back in its place, post emergency alert. Photo Credit: Cascades Raptor 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.”