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Triage and critical care of wildlife (Proceedings)

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Nov 01, 2010

Due to anthropogenic encroachment on all wild spaces, an animal's encounter with civilization often leads to injury. This means that the number of animals received by wildlife rehabilitators every year is on the rise. Wildlife rehabilitators are often volunteers with limited resources. It is not uncommon for rehabilitators to complain that they have little veterinary support. Due to veterinary student's interest, veterinary colleges are now offering education on wildlife/exotic/zoo patients. There are now several professional organizations concerned with the welfare of our wildlife neighbors. These facts are bringing a new level of professionalism to a veterinarian's involvement with wildlife.

Prior to Triage—Legal Issues

As veterinarians, we are usually legally entitled to treat injured wildlife. It is important to mention that this does not translate to keeping permanently injured wildlife on a long-term basis or allowing our staff to do the same. It is our responsibility to learn, understand and educate others about Federal and State laws that govern the care of wildlife. When we choose to become part of wildlife rehabilitation, the public will undoubtedly use us as sources of information. This means that we must educate ourselves and teach our staff how to answer the commonly asked questions.

Prior to Triage—The Philosophy of Wildlife Treatment

Prior to treating a wildlife patient, you and your staff must decide for what purpose you would like to be involved with wildlife rehabilitation. Wildlife rehabilitation has long been a controversial issue. There are those that do not believe wildlife rehabilitation of individual animals significantly affects populations and therefore is a waste of money and resources that could be better spent in other conservation efforts. Furthermore, the reasons for why wildlife rehabilitation is carried out vary greatly. For example, some choose to participate because they feel this is one way to lessen the impact of human encroachment on wild animal's habitats. Additional considerations that should be considered before accept your first case include safety, equipment needed, knowledge of species or references available, your clinic's Mission for working with wildlife. The mission of the University of Georgia Wildlife Clinic is:

"To evaluate and treat native injured wildlife for the purpose of returning them to their natural habitat."

What are the chances I can treat this animal and return it to 100% normal function so it can be released back to its habitat?

Learning to anticipate the answer to this question within the triage period is one of the most difficult things to learn when working with wildlife. Leading wildlife rehabilitators agree that animals that are not in perfect condition should never be released. Animals that should not be released include: animals that are visually impaired, mammals that have two or more injured legs, bird that cannot use both wings, imprinted animals, animals that can potentially transmit diseases to endemic populations. To help you with these kinds of decisions either you can become involved with rehabilitation and post-release monitoring yourself or rely heavily on your relationship with a wildlife rehabilitator, which will prove invaluable.