Wednesday, August 14, 2002

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Celebrating the wildlife releases of the PAWS Wildlife Center


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Progressive Animal
Welfare Society

PO Box 1037
Lynnwood, WA 98046

Kevin Mack
The Long Road to Release
by Kevin Mack, PAWS Wildlife Naturalist
Wild Again celebrates the wildlife releases of the PAWS Wildlife Department. Release is the ultimate goal of all of our rehabilitation efforts and I feel very fortunate to have the responsibility of managing the PAWS release program. But what does it take to get an injured/orphaned/ill wild animal to the point at which it can be released? Since not everyone is familiar with the process of wildlife rehabilitation, I thought it might be helpful to explain exactly what that process entails.

Osprey

This osprey, found by the road with an injured wing, is currently in care at the PAWS Wildlife Center.

Every animal released by the PAWS Wildlife Department represents a large investment of time, resources and care. Depending on the reason for admission, the rehabilitation of an individual animal may take anywhere from a few hours to several months. Initial contact with an animal usually comes in the form of a phone call from a concerned citizen. The PAWS reception staff members ask a series of questions that help to determine whether or not the animal that the caller has found is truly in need of help. If the animal requires assistance, the caller is given instructions on how to safely capture, contain and transport it, and they are asked to bring it to the center.

When an animal arrives at the center, it is admitted by the reception staff and placed in warm, quiet caging in the exam room. Many animals arrive in a state of extreme stress or shock due to the traumatic experience of capture and transport. They are given some time to calm down before they are handled. After the animal is appropriately situated in the exam room, the reception staff enter the animal into the PAWS database and fill in relevant information that is provided by the finder. The animal is assigned a case number and a printout of the admission form is left on the animal's cage in the exam room.

The initial physical exam is performed after the animal has had some time to calm down. PAWS' wildlife rehabilitators, who have received specialized training to thoroughly assess and stabilize incoming patients, perform the physical examinations. Treatment regimens are assigned depending on the physical exam findings. If the animal is a healthy orphan, it will be assigned a feeding schedule based on its age and species. If fractures are found, X-rays may be in order. If the animal was attacked by a cat or has signs of infection, antibiotics may be employed. The animal is also treated for any external or internal parasites that are found. In cases where the animal requires surgery, sutures or other specialized veterinary care, the Rehabilitators call on the expertise of the two PAWS Wildlife Department Veterinarians. If the animal is too badly injured to have a chance of returning to normal function in the wild, it is humanely euthanized.

Hoary Marmot

This hoary marmot was found wandering in a Seattle neighborhood. He had likely traveled to the city in the car of an unsuspecting motorist. He will be returned to suitable habitat in the Cascade Mountains.

After the initial examination and diagnostic work, the animal's treatment begins. Treatment can include anything from cage rest to major orthopedic surgery. With over 5,000 animals coming through our doors every year, the list of potential injuries, illnesses and treatment regimens is far too large to list here. At any given moment there may be several hundred animals in various stages of recovery on the PAWS Wildlife Center premises. Some of the animals must receive medication, hand feeding (in the case of babies) or tube feeding (in the case of adults that are too stressed in captivity to eat). Injured animals may require daily bandage changes. Patients recovering from surgery may require physical therapy. Every animal requires a clean cage and fresh food and water. All of this adds up to an enormous amount of work. This work is performed not only by the Wildlife Rehabilitators but also by seasonal staff, interns and dozens of volunteers. During the height of summer, the PAWS Wildlife Department employs the assistance of over 200 volunteers on a weekly basis. We would be unable to perform the work that we do without them.

Animals that have completed their course of treatment are placed in outdoor cages. Since treatment may last several weeks, it is often necessary to re-acclimate the animal to outside temperatures and condition it for release. Birds are placed in flight cages to strengthen their flight muscles and mammals are given spacious enclosures in which they can run, jump and climb appropriately. Depending on the length of treatment and the amount of conditioning needed, animals may spend anywhere from 2 days to several months in the pre-release enclosures.

At the end of pre-release conditioning comes the animal's release. Each animal is assessed to ensure that it is healthy and behaving normally. Some animal's are given final x-rays or other diagnostics to verify that injuries or illnesses have resolved prior to release. If all is well, an appropriate release site is chosen and the animal is returned to the wild. The assistance of both public agencies and private landowners is employed to find suitable release sites for the large numbers of animals PAWS releases annually.

To say the least, wildlife rehabilitation is extremely challenging work. What I have listed above is a very condensed version of the actual process but it should give at least an idea of the amount of work that is involved. A factor that tends to complicate all of this work is that there is no way that we can convey to our patients that we are trying to help them. They see humans as large predators and they react accordingly (fight or flight) every time we interact with them. In this sense the release end of the job is the easiest to perform. I simply get to let the animals do what they have wanted to do during their entire course of treatment. I get to let them go home.

Wildlife Release tally: July 24 to August 6, 2002

1 Eastern Cottontail
1 Snowshoe Hare
16 Mallards
3 Red-tailed Hawks
2 Killdeer
1 Belted Kingfisher
16 American Robins
5 English House Sparrows
8 House Finches
2 Spotted Towhees
1 Brown-headed Cowbird
1 Red Crossbill
1 Western Screech Owl
2 Dark-eyed Juncos
4 English House Sparrows
2 Cedar Waxwings
2 Red-winged Blackbird
1 Eastern Cottontail
9 Virginia Opossums
4 American Crows
1 Band-tailed Pigeon
2 Northern Flickers
1 Great Horned Owl

Wildlife Release tally: 2002 Year to Date
775 animals

All rights reserved. 2002 Progressive Animal Welfare Society

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