Rehabilitating Wild Animals

Tips on Transporting Injured or Orphaned Wildlife

              The requirements of animals are almost as varied as the number of different kinds of animals. Obviously it would not be possible in a small publication to go into details concerning requirements for all species of animals that might be encountered, or concerning all the afflictions and accidents to which they may be subjected. Therefore, the aim in this is to outline a few general principles for the care of wildlife—a sort abridged first-aid manual.

            When a wild animal is found, the first question that should be considered is: does it really require assistance, or is it able to take care of itself either at the location where found or in some adjacent, more favorable location? Often, especially in the case of mammals, the mother will leave her babies hidden at a certain location while she forages for food, so do not assume infant animals have been abandoned just because they appear to be alone. A fledgling bird just out of the nest, learning to fly, does not require human help. Indeed, it is much better to go quietly away and leave it alone so that its parents can continue to feed until it’s ready to make another attempt at flight.

            If an animal is determined to be injured, the first course of action should be to contact the local wildlife rehabilitator prior to taking the animal into one’s home.  NEVER attempt to rehabilitate the animal yourself.  Master rehabilitators, like Colleen Layton, the proprietor of Frisky’s Wildlife and Primate Sanctuary, have taken classes, exams, and through years of practical experience, gained the legal license to care for indigenous wildlife. The law prescribes that wild animals are to be rehabilitated only in these licensed facilities. Many animals arrive at shelters malnourished by improper food and treatment.  This can happen very quickly - especially with birds - and some animals subsequently die or are unreleasable.  Some species of wildlife can carry zoonotic diseases transmittable to humans.  Some common zoonoses include Lyme Disease, Ring Worm, Salmonella, and Rabies. The various viruses and diseases are caused by bacteria and parasites that live in the fur and digestive tracts of wild animals. These are easily transmitted to humans and therefore it is crucial to wear protective clothing and maintain personal hygiene when handling wildlife. Approach and handle any wild animal with extreme care; carelessness or lack of respect for the animal’s space will inevitably result in injury to the human and additional stress to the animal. A heron or egret's beak can cause severe damage; a hawk's talons can go right through your hand, and everyone should know the harm a bite can cause. Try to have a second person on hand as backup. Do not even attempt to handle large animals, skunks, and bats.

            In general, if the transportation of an animal is necessary, use a towel or blanket to toss over and cover it – then place it quickly and gently in a cardboard box, plastic container, or animal carrier.  Use gloves, especially with mammals and large birds - and a firm, confident grip.  Protect your eyes! Try to keep the animal in quiet, dark place, to decrease stress before and during transportation.  You can do this by covering the container that contains the animal with a blanket, sheet or towel.  The best way to ensure the animal’s survival is to bring it immediately to the closest rehabilitation center. DO NOT allow children or family pets to approach the wildlife and try to minimize human contact as much as possible. On the way to the shelter, leave the radio off and keep conversations to a bare minimum. NEVER attempt to feed an animal.

Often, when people are confronted with an injured animal that is in a state of extreme nutritional depletion, their first inclination is to “feed the poor thing.” What they don’t understand is that successfully treating starvation involves much more that filling an empty stomach! In the first place, if the animal is injured, it is not likely disposed to eat at the moment. Inside a starving animal, radical physiological and biochemical changes occur. Blood proteins and digestive enzymes are utilized as energy, stored energy reserves are mobilized, and an insufficient intake of fluids results in severe dehydration. Essentially, a severe depletion of fluids in the body will result in a decrease in blood pressure, perfusion of kidney, and motility of gastrointestinal tract, rendering the animal incapable of digesting any form of solid food. Only licensed rehabilitators are qualified to apply fluid therapy to the animal, so the most any well-intentioned individual can do is ensure the wildlife is kept warm while under his or her care. Providing an injured or starved animal with an external source of heat is a crucial supportive measure. This will help to minimize the energy the patient must exert to keep itself sufficiently warm.

In the instance where a person is obliged to offer assistance to an injured wildlife, careful consideration must be given as to the treatment of the animal. With each different bird, mammal, or reptile, a varied method must be applied. The following paragraphs give specific information on common animals we get at Frisky’s:

Baby, juvenile, and adult birds are found by the public in great numbers and in all stages of development. Many fledglings or nestlings cannot yet fly and perch on branches in the nest tree or bush, where the parents continue to feed them. If the birds are uninjured, the best course is to try to replace them. The parents will continue to care for them - they are the real experts. Look for the nest, or if it has fallen, see if it can be put back. This will cause much less distress to both the parent birds and the babies than it would to remove them. It may not be possible to find a nest, so they can be placed in a bush or tree about 5-6' from the ground to remove them from the vicinity of dogs and cats. Of course, if you can see or suspect that the babies are injured, then they should be brought to the nearest wildlife center as quickly as possible. Be sure to wear gloves, as most birds are often infested with mites. Check the legs and wings for any sign of breaks, and the neck for any abnormal twisting but don’t attempt to make any corrections. Cardboard boxes work well for most birds and should include the following features: large enough not to cramp the animal in an unnatural position, small enough to restrain large movements, sufficient enclosure to reduce visual stimuli but with ventilation through small holes, and a non-slip substrate such as   or old  leaves, grass or paper towels. Don’t use materials which can entangle feathers, toes, limbs, and necks.

Fawns are particularly appealing to most people, which create special problems for them. Most people, upon discovering a fawn, immediately assume it needs to be rescued, which is not usually the case. The doe leaves her baby in one spot while she goes out to feed, where it is protected by stillness and disruptive coloration, its primary protection. If you leave the fawn alone, its mother will return to care for it at night.  Never remove a fawn unless you are absolutely sure the mother will not return to care for it (i.e. if she is hit by a car or missing for more than one day) or if it’s obviously severely injured. Fawns are difficult to raise in captivity and it must NOT be done by any unauthorized personnel at home. For one thing, their diets are very specialized. Wild animals can only live on food natural for their species. DO NOT ever attempt to feed a fawn cow's milk or anything else. Immediately get the fawn to the nearest wildlife center, which will have a suitable diet replacement on hand. Try not to hold the fawn consistently, as human odor and touch will only add to its stress. A light cloth placed over the animal's head will sometimes calm it, and if the weather is cool, a blanket may be placed over its body to minimize heat loss.

Rabbits are another animal whose apparent helplessness makes them a target for uninformed "rescuers". This helplessness is far from real, however.  Rabbits share many similarities with fawns. The mother leaves them to feed, where they are protected by camouflage coloration. Their diet is also very restricted, and they should also be brought quickly to a wildlife center only if it is absolutely necessary. They require especially careful handling as they are likely to injure their backs in struggles to escape. Complete containment of the body and limbs in a towel or pillow case is the best way to restrain them.

Most of the animals discussed so far are not considered particularly harmful. However, bats are a different story. It is essential to wear gloves and other protective clothing and keep contact to a minimum, as they have the potential of carrying Lyssavirus, (rabies-like disease). Scoop the bat gently up into a suitable sized box lined with a soft cloth to give it something to cling to and immediately take it to your wildlife center.

 Snakes and Snapping Turtles should NEVER be picked up; even if you are certain that it is non-venomous, it can still deliver a serious bite. In addition, they can carry salmonella’s bacteria. Simply place a box over it and call your local rehabilitator for further directions. Be sure to note distinctive patterns and features of the snake to help the rehabilitator identify the species so he or she can get a good idea of what to expect.    Snapping Turtles have very powerful bites. For smaller reptiles which you feel comfortable in handling, there is little in the way of first aid other than to catch the animal, and place it into a warm container such as a cardboard box or plastic aquarium. Remember, some reptiles go into shock when they have had some trauma. This makes them dazed and compliant (easy to handle). BEWARE, as they emerge from shock, they can suddenly become active and aggressive.   However, it is extremely important to note where you found the animal and notify the rehabilitator of it. Certain species may become disoriented and incapable of hunting if they are placed in a strange territory.


It is NOT against the law to TRANSPORT small animals or birds to a Licensed Wildlife Rehabilitator.  It is AGAINST the law for you to keep them in captivity even if found in your own yard

While specific knowledge on the natural history and behavior of all wildlife in the area is ideal, it is highly improbable. The following steps are the basic guidelines that can be followed when applying first aid to most mammals, birds, and reptiles.

Preparing to Transport to a Rehabilitators


1. Prepare a container.
Place a soft cloth on the bottom of a cardboard box or pet carrier with a lid
If it does not have air holes, make some
For smaller animals or birds use a paper sack or shopping bag with air holes punched in
2. Protect yourself.
Wear gloves, if possible
Some animals may bite or scratch to protect themselves, even if sick; wild animals commonly have external parasites (fleas, lice, ticks) and may carry diseases
3. Cover the animal with a light sheet or towel.
4. Gently pick up the animal and put it in the prepared container.
5. Warm the animal (80°) to prevent shock.
Put just one end of the container (on a heating pad set on low (do not put the animal on the heating pad) 


Fill a hot water bottle with warm water (make sure it does not leak) and wrap in a soft cloth or towel and place near animal
6. Leave the animal alone - do not handle or bother it.
Do not force feed anything - the wrong food is harmful
Keep children and pets away
7. Tape the box shut or roll the top of the paper bag closed.
8. Keep the animal in a warm, dark, quite place. This helps the animal feel secure.
9. Note exactly where you found the animal. This is very important for re-release.
10. Contact a wildlife care center in your area.
11. Get the animal to a wildlife care center as soon as possible.
12. Wash your hands and anything the animals was in contact with to prevent the spread of parasites and/or diseases to you or your pets.


 Thank you for caring about nature too.



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