Did you know that May is Mental Health Awareness Month?
We here at the IWRC have recently put forth a few resources promoting mental health in wildlife rehabilitation, such as our blog post on Self-Caring During COVID-19 and our Going Home Checklist. As we can all imagine, due to the emotion, long hours, and stress placed on us (especially during the intense spring and summer hours), the importance of mental health cannot be overstated…. but what is mental health? How does our work impact our mental health? What can we do about this?
What is mental health?
1 in 5 adults experiences mental health issues1. Even if they don’t affect you personally, they likely affect someone you know!
Myth: I can’t help someone else get over their mental health issues. Busted: One’s social networks are perhaps the most valuable in helping them get through a difficult time. Friends and colleagues can not only show their support for those impacted but also help them find the help that they need.
Myth: Mental health issues cannot be prevented. Busted: As we rehabbers know with our own patients, prevention is far easier than treatment (though in our case, both are feasible!). Knowing one’s risks and limits can help manage our mental wellbeing.
Mental wellbeing impacts from our work
Traumatic events. We see a lot during our work as rehabilitators. Whether the animal was hit by a car, torn apart by a cat, or shot, it can be traumatic – both for the patient and for us. On a near-daily basis, we witness suffering and animals in duress.
Stressful life situations (financials, loved one’s death, divorce, ongoing medical conditions). As most of our work comes out of pocket – or relying solely on donations (surviving donation-by-donation), it can be very stressful to wonder if we can afford our next batch of mealworms.
Dealing with stressed, angered, or scared members of the public.
Advanced level of multitasking and triage (answering phone calls, feeding wildlife, etc)
Balancing relationships. Spring and Summer hours are long and seemingly never-ending… this can make personal relationships difficult to find and maintain.
Maintain positive mental health
1. Seek professional help. There should be no shame in asking for help. As we rehabbers know, we can’t do it all! It is more than OK to ask for help.
2. Connect with your social network. This doesn’t just mean Facebook. Reach out to your friends, family, coworkers, and colleagues. In fact, studies show that those who engage in regular social interactions with others are less likely to be depressed2. We’re in this together and you are not alone.
3. Help others. Well…. we probably have this pretty well covered in our daily work as rehabilitators but this is a great reminder ;)….
4. Sleep. What is sleep? We know those baby hummers need feeding every 20 minutes, but luckily we know that their parents do indeed get sleep – so we can too! The National Sleep Foundation’s recent studies show that most adults need 7-9 hours of sleep each night3. Though it may not always be possible, it is a good goal to aim for! Don’t forget, we also make fewer mistakes when well-rested4.
5. Develop coping skills. We all go through rough, really rough days… It is OK to feel emotion about what we do, and it is OK to take a second to step outside, go for a run, or find a useful technique to deal with a difficult or stressful event5.
6. Get or stay active. Physical and mental health go hand-in-hand. Staying physically active can help you maintain your mental wellbeing
Most importantly, please remember how awesome you are and the significant difference you make on wildlife’s lives each and every day. Stay healthy. Stay well!
Crisis Text Line (US): Text HELLO to 741741
Suicide Hotline: +1-800-273-8255 (US)
- Mental Health Myths and Facts. Washington DC: US Dept of Health & Human Services; 2017 [accessed 2020 May 26]. https://www.mentalhealth.gov/basics/mental-health-myths-facts
- Steger MF, Kashdan TB. Depression and Everyday Social Activity, Belonging, and Well-Being. Journal of Counseling Psychology. 2009;56(2):289-300. doi: 10.1037/a0015416
- How much sleep do we really need? Arlington (United States): SleepFoundation.org; 2020 [accessed 2020 May 26]. https://www.sleepfoundation.org/articles/how-much-sleep-do-we-really-need
- Gingerich S. Wake-up call: sleep deprivation can lead to workplace mistakes. Yardley (United States):Staywell; 2019 [accessed 2020 May 26] https://www.staywell.com/insights/sleep-deprivation-workplace-mistakes
- What is mental health. Washington DC: US Dept of Health & Human Services; 2019 [accessed 2020 May 26]. https://www.mentalhealth.gov/basics/what-is-mental-health
Online learning is increasingly viewed as a valuable platform that offers tools not available in a traditional classroom setting. The IWRC strives to make our courses as accessible as possible, while constantly improving their quality. Throughout the remainder of 2020, we will be releasing new and revamped online courses that take advantage of the technological benefits of virtual learning.
This new generation of IWRC online courses will utilize the classic digital lecture style of our previous classes, and make them more interactive. We are adding knowledge reinforcing activities and tools, including knowledge checks, flashcards and other activities, as well as closed captions, to ensure students are getting the most from their learning experience. Our classes will employ different types of media such as pictures, audio, text, and video, to cater to a wider spectrum of learning styles. We hope that our students will enjoy not only a broader range of courses available from the convenience of their homes, but also an enhanced educational experience.
The IWRC’s online classes do not seek to recreate or replace in-person courses but give you a different educational experience with the same learning outcomes. To allow students the opportunity to practice procedures traditionally taught through IWRC labs, we are creating virtual labs in partnership with Folkmanis Puppets. When completing a class with a lab, you will learn procedures and then upload videos of yourself completing these assignments. Your videos will then receive feedback and evaluation. For those without access to supplies or cadavers, lab kits can be purchased along with a class. In these kits we include the materials needed for your lab including a realistic and carefully crafted Folkmanis animal puppet on which to practice. In this way, our online classes will allow all the benefits of online learning without sacrificing the important experience you gain through a lab.
These new classes also come at an opportune moment — during the self-isolation and social distancing necessitated by the COVID-19 virus. While the global pandemic certainly lit a fire under our tails in terms of getting these courses ready for release, they have also been a long time coming. The development of these online courses began in 2018. Now these classes are being rewritten with up-to-date information, are being peer-reviewed by experts, and remodeled with current technologies/resources. You will find that our new courses, although timely, were not rushed to release, and are our best quality online learning resources to date! While we are committed to rolling out these new courses to meet the increasing need, we are still searching for funding to support this accelerated launch. Remember that donations, no matter the size, help us to grow and innovate!
Although we cannot promise exact dates, we will be releasing Wound Management with the bandaging laboratory this spring/early summer. Next, we will introduce our new Parasitology course (also available in-person at a later date), Fluid Therapy, and Pain Management! Directly following their release, the price of each course will be generously marked down. For students that recently took an older version of these courses, you can expect an additional discount as well!
Please stay tuned for more information on future online releases— we have some other projects in the works that we think you will love! The IWRC is committed to growing and improving our educational resources to push the field of wildlife rehabilitation forward. We hope you enjoy our growing curriculum!
We have them, we know them, we love them, and most of us even are them… Volunteers make up the lifeblood of our wildlife rehab operations. Without them? Well… we don’t even want to go there. They help us with anything and everything from cleaning to caring for our patients to medical procedures. They even help with the admittedly less-than-fun administrative tasks including fundraising, event planning, and management!
Whether they are nurses, lawyers, contractors, pilots, or teachers, with us they are amazing supporters of our work and our wildlife patients. Some may even think of it as the great equalizer; we all, in some way or another, end up cleaning feces and urine out of our clothing, scrapping it out of enclosures, or searching for the diet items for those rare species we sometimes get in.
Though this year, along with other challenges, is quite different. We aren’t able to give the usual in-person smiles, hugs, potlucks, appreciation dinners, or customized gifts to our volunteers (at least, not yet!). COVID-19 has affected all of us to a great extent, yet, throughout this difficult time, our volunteers continue to be more dedicated than ever to our cause.
Nonetheless, we cannot express how much we care about and appreciate our many volunteers who make our every day work possible. IWRC is sending out a virtual hug to our volunteers and all wildlife rehabilitation volunteers. Thank you for all that you do!
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 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
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?
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.
- 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
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.
How are you doing? Let us know by answering this survey
There are no words in any human vocabulary to describe the unimaginable horror as Australia burns. There are emotions, deep-stabbing pains of grief, voids and the vacancy of loss, infinite vacuum of pain, but no words. Not one living thing consumed by this hell brought on by human greed and antipathy deserves this fate. I write this now, as my Australian colleagues have much more important things to do. I hope to voice some of their feelings, but I do not speak for them; I understand there is no possibility that I can ever know the pain they suffer.
Looking on the holocaust from afar is devastating. In the field, you put your head down, go to work, do your best and continue on. The personal pain and suffering comes later. From far away, helpless horror and despair takes over. I cannot weep, I cannot rage, I am numb. The tearing rip through my soul does not yet sear.
I have been an Australiophile since I can remember. On my first trip, the first view from the airport on hitting the soil of this fabulous continent took my breath away. I knew I was there. The airport, the people, the industrial aspect –all familiar–but there were galahs, right there. And magpie larks and noisy miners and funny-looking pigeons with crests. I was entranced and filled with wonder! Of all the places in the world to burn to nothingness, the loss of Australia is unfathomable. It is a continent already at the brink, and so susceptible and fragile to anthropogenic damage. The impact on the unique and ancient flora and fauna is beyond the scope of human understanding. There is nowhere else in the world these ecosystems and organisms exist. The fires are needless, preventable squandering of irreplaceable, priceless treasures. The Earth has been violated and robbed. So fortunate have I been, to have visited for several extended tours in regions that now are visions of hell. I vividly remember that stunning individual bowerbird who is now surely ash and his lovely bower rendered to molecules. I remember the first wild koalas I saw, on Kangaroo Island, smelling of chewed eucalyptus, whose remains now intermingle with the charcoal of their favorite gum trees.
Reading the news that Kangaroo Island was aflame dropped the bottom out of my heart. I remember Australia: the first goanna, the first mallee trees; the first brown snake; the first bulldog ant; the first voracious leech; I remember them all and I know they are gone, dead in the most horrible fashion. Gone are half a billion wild animals. Half of all animals in Australia. Countless livestock and pets. Indigenous communities, lands and people. Death of entire ecosystems. Death of a continent. Death of biological record so important to evolution and systematics. Death of history.
Australia is the lesson to the world of what is to come. It is not a surprise. In the late 1970’s I was a fresh young college student working in ecological studies, some of which were predicting the course of human impact on global ecosystems. For 50 years humans have known what would happen, yet little was done to change the course of destruction. Governments have refused to acknowledge or implement policy to prevent disaster. Australia is the result. The rest of us are next.
As a wildlife veterinarian I know there is little to be done. Skills in euthanasia will be the most valuable at this point. Yet valiant and dedicated people give their all and rescue the animal fire victims, of which each individual will now be more important than ever to any remaining population. Wildlife rehabilitators are always heros; but this is a new level of courage.
How can we help? I know that everyone of you would jump on a plane tomorrow with a bag of supplies, but that is not what our friends and the burn victims need most.
- The easiest answer is money – providing money so rehabilitators can buy what they need.
- Morale support – we are there if needed. Spreading the word, for help and for prevention.
- Educating ourselves and others about our local ecological regions and how humans fit into our world, and how deeply we damage it.
- Advocating for change and awareness.
- Being political and outspoken when needed.
- Acknowledging the imminent climate crisis and preparing for the impact on our own turf.
Be the best wildlife rehabilitator you can be – in the future you will be needed more than ever!
Pat Latas, DVM
IWRC Board of Directors
Editor’s note: University of Sydney Ecology professor Chris Dickman is estimating 1 billion animals have been killed thus far by the record-breaking wildfires in Australia, as of Jan 8, 2020.
IF YOU CONTINUE TO SCROLL DOWN, YOU WILL SEE DISTURBING IMAGES OF WILDLIFE AFFECTED BY FIRE
On Jan 2, Facebook user Nick Ritar posted the following ten photos taken at Bastion Beach in Mallacoota, Victoria and said:
“Birds of Eastern Australia 2020
2. Rainbow Lorikeet
4. Top Knot Pigeon
6. New Holland Honeyeater
8. Gang-gang Cockatoo
10. Barn Owl
This is what climate change looks like.”
Editors note: specimen identifications were his, and frankly – there’s really no need to publicly speculate or correct them at this point in time.
Editors note: The act of compiling this post has been enough shake me to my core. Just like you, I feel utterly devastated and every image actually feels like someone is trying to pull my heart out of my chest. I have cried, wanted to punch someone (preferably a climate denier) and seriously considered screaming into a pillow as a release. But none of those things will help the people and animals that are suffering and I know the only thing I actually can do to help them is to donate. This is yet more reason for me to get back to work on IWRC’s Disaster Preparedness project so that we – all wildlife rehabbers -can all be ready to respond to these events in the future. I’ve lived through several big fire outbreaks here in southern California and I can honestly say that the only thing the local rehabbers needed from the outside rehabbers was money and moral support. So please, choose one or more of the rehab affiliated links that we have listed on this Facebook post and donate. – Brooke Durham
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.
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
- Compassion Satisfaction and Fatigue Test (ProQOL) Available in 20 languages
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 firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll see about posting in the a full list later in the year.
Pamphlets and Tools
- Depression and Other Common Mental Disorders: Global Health Estimates. Geneva: World Health Organization; 2017. Licence: CC BY-NC-SA 3.0 IGO.
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.
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.
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