Celebrating the wildlife releases of the PAWS Wildlife Center
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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.
This osprey, found by the road with an injured wing, is currently in care at the PAWS Wildlife 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.
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.
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
Wildlife Release tally: 2002 Year to Date
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