As a wildlife rehabilitator, I’m often approached by animal-loving people wondering what (besides feeding the backyard birds) they can legally do to help their local wildlife. Many, of course, know that federal and state laws prohibit anyone without the proper permits to handle and house wildlife, to treat their injuries, to raise baby birds…. In fact it’s illegal to keep any wildlife in captivity (with a few very specific exceptions), and illegal even for licensed rehabbers to work with certain species unless they have extra training, permits and facilities.
“So,” these good-hearted people ask, “How can we help?”
My answer is always: “Start by getting to know the hard-working folks at your local wildlife rescue center.”
There are many licensed rehabbers out there. Many are individuals who network peripherally with others for support and resources. However, there are also actual rescue and rehab centers within driving distance of many communities. Some of these centers are even registered as not-for-profit charities, so that donations toward the care of the animals are tax-deductible.
The fastest way to find your local wildlife centers and rehabilitators, in this day and age of instant-connections, is to use the web. Do a search for “wildlife center” and include your local area (city, town, county, or state). Chances are that you will find a listing not far from you. You can also try giving your local veterinarians a call, as many of them keep contact information for rehabbers and wildlife centers.
Although wildlife centers are usually prohibited from allowing the public to view the animals that are going to be released back into the wild, there are many other chores that need to be done, and ways that volunteers can help. Many centers also house non-releasable animals, due to injury or other conditions that will prevent those individuals from surviving in the wild. If your inclination is to physically volunteer, give them a call, and ask how you can help.
Even if a wildlife center is not set up to allow volunteers to come in and help hands-on, most of them will gratefully welcome monetary donations. It takes resources of all kinds to keep those animals healthy, safe, and well-fed.
Some wildlife centers also frequent public events. They will set up educational information in various venues, sometimes even bringing along some of their non-releasable animals to help them teach. Ask if they have an events schedule. Find out where you can go to meet the people and learn more about what they do. Then, tell your friends and neighbors. Most centers appreciate all the support they can get.
Ask for copies of their educational materials. Many wildlife educators have hand-outs and brochures that teach about local wildlife, and how to live beside them safely and respectfully. Teach yourself and your family members what it means to be a “good wildlife neighbor”.
One area wildlife centers really appreciate help in, is fund-raising. If you volunteer to help raise money for the care of the animals, I can guarantee you will make new friends for life!
Most wildlife centers subsist primarily on the helpful support of their community members. That essential support is a treasure to all who daily “lay it on the line” for the wild animals under their care. Being a wildlife friend is a great honor, whether you have the requirements to do the job hands-on, or you are part of the oh-so-valuable behind-the-scenes support system.
So, if you want to help, hit the web, make the connections, and.…
…“Welcome to the Team”!