How to Become a Wildlife Rehabilitator

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Wildlife rehabilitation is the act of taking care of injured, ill, and orphaned wild animals with the goal of releasing them into their natural habitat. An individually tailored program for each animal involves examination, diagnosis, and treatment through veterinary and hospital care, feeding, medication, physical therapy, exercise, and prerelease preparation. Releases are planned to take place during appropriate weather and seasons and are aimed for the right habitats and locations.

Those animals that are beyond help when found are humanely euthanized. Animals that cannot be released can occasionally provide valuable research information or are suitable as educational aids.

There are critics of wildlife rehabilitation. They say that nature should be allowed to take its course, with injured or ill wild animals roaming free to meet their natural fate. However, extensive research shows that most of the injured, ill, and orphaned wild animals handled by rehabilitators are distressed not because of "natural" illnesses or occurrences, but because of human interventions, some of which are accidental, some intentional, many preventable. Animals can be injured by automobiles and trains, lawn mowers, high line wires, guns and other weapons, inhumane traps, unsupervised children, lumbering activities, plate glass windows, poisons, oil spills, domestic pets, and a variety of other causes. Dedicated rehabilitation experts ease the suffering of these animals either by caring for them until they can be released or by humanely euthanizing them.

Trained rehabilitators with legal permits are an important link in the network of people and organizations helping wildlife. Not only do they care for animals and return them to the wild, they also help reduce the negative human impact on wildlife and the environment. Some rehabilitators are involved in research, captive breeding, and release-to-the-wild projects. Others are also involved in public education, exposing both children and adults to biological facts, ecological concepts, and a responsible attitude toward all living things.

Permits from both state and federal wildlife agencies must be obtained in order to possess or handle wildlife. This includes all birds with the exception of pigeons, European starlings, and house sparrows. In addition to the birds, permits also are required to possess the feathers and the nest.

The agencies issuing the permits require all rehabilitators to keep detailed records on all the animals they care for. These records are submitted annually to state and federal agencies. Wildlife rehabilitation facilities are also subject to sporadic site inspections.

State permit requirements vary from state to state. Some states require only an application (which includes a description of your previous experience in wildlife rehabilitation) and a licensing fee. Other states insist upon extensive training and require that applicants become certified prior to obtaining permits. Federal permits are issued by region.

To get application forms, you must contact the appropriate office in your region. It may take up to six months to obtain the necessary permits.

To become involved with an existing wildlife rehabilitation center, contact those of interest to you and volunteer your time. Larger centers with adequate budgets can occasionally take on paid employees. As a volunteer you would be in a position to know when an opportunity opens up.


The U.S. government has enacted numerous laws to protect our natural resources. Listed below are the laws regarding wildlife.

The Migratory Bird Treaty Act

The Endangered Species Act

The Eagle Protection Act

The Wild Bird Conservation Act

The Migratory Bird Treaty Act

As an example of what these laws entail, the Endangered Species Act is described below.

The Endangered Species Act (ESA), which was passed in 1973 and reauthorized in 1988, regulates a range of activities affecting plants and animals designated as endangered or threatened. An "endangered species" is defined as an animal or plant listed by regulation as being in danger of extinction.

A "threatened species" is any animal or plant that is likely to become endangered within the foreseeable future.

The act prohibits the following activities involving endangered species:
  • importing into or exporting from the United States
  • taking (which includes harassing, harming, pursuing, hunting, shooting, wounding, trapping, killing, capturing, or collecting) within the United States and its territorial seas
  • possessing, selling, delivering, carrying, transporting, or shipping any such species unlawfully taken within the United States or on the high seas
  • delivering, receiving, carrying, transporting, or shipping in interstate or foreign commerce in the course of a commercial activity
  • selling or offering for sale in interstate or foreign commerce
Prohibitions apply to endangered species, their parts, and products. Most of these restrictions also apply to species listed as threatened unless the species qualifies for an exception. The act also requires that wildlife be imported or exported through designated ports and that special declarations be filed. If the value of wildlife imported and/or exported is $25,000 per year or more, importers and exporters must be licensed.


Permits may be granted for scientific or propagation purposes or for economic hardship situations involving endangered or threatened species.


Violators of the Endangered Species Act are subject to fines of up to $100,000 and one year imprisonment. Organizations found in violation may be fined up to $200,000. Fish, wildlife, plants, and vehicles and equipment used in violations may be subject to forfeiture.


Individuals providing information leading to a civil penalty or criminal conviction may be eligible for cash rewards.

In the 1800s, once the relationship between oxygen, animals, and plants became known, aquarium keeping became a well-established science.

London's Regent's Park can boast of the first public aquarium, which opened in 1853. Later aquariums began appearing in Berlin, Naples, and Paris. There were forty-five public or commercial aquariums throughout the world by the early 1900s. The worldwide depression slowed subsequent growth, and few new, large aquariums were built until after World War II.
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