PAWS Magazine


Issue 53, Winter 2002


Wildlife Rehabilitation: a complex ballet

by Kip Parker

In the 21 years since its opening, the PAWS Wildlife Center has seen more than 82,000 wild animals come through the front door. Each animal has its own story, a particular set of circumstances attached to its discovery, rescue, transportation, medical care, feeding, housing, and eventual release back to its native habitat.

In a typical year, the staff and volunteers of the PAWS Wildlife Rehabilitation Center will treat more than 4,500 wild animals of about 165 different species. From bears to bats, cougars to chickadees, owls to otters, rattlesnakes to raccoons, and eagles to eider ducks, more than 200 species have been treated at the center since its opening in 1981.

In 2001’s intake, 41 species represented 90% of all the wildlife received that year. In the bird category alone, we saw the Common Crow, Rock Dove, American Robin, European Starling, House Sparrow, Mallard, Northern Flicker, Western Grebe, House Finch, Steller’s Jay, Band-tailed Pigeon, Pine Siskin, Glaucous-wing Gull, Canada Goose, Spotted Towhee, Chickadee, Barn Swallow, Dark-eyed Junco, Golden-crowned Kinglet, Violet-green Swallow, Cedar Waxwing, Varied Thrush, Fox Sparrow, Barn Owl, Bewick’s Wren, Song Sparrow, Winter Wren, Bush Tit, Thayer’s Gull, Western Gull, Swainson’s Thrush, and California Quail.

The PAWS approach to wildlife care has always been a team one—melding a wide range of skills, with everyone working together to give our wildlife patients the best care. The PAWS team comprises both paid staff and volunteer workers. Staff includes veterinarians, wildlife rehabilitators, a naturalist, a volunteer program manager, and reception/admissions and facility caretaker staff. Our center and hospital could not operate without a well-managed volunteer program. More than 200 specially trained volunteers, working in excess of 22,000 hours each year, work as a transport team, bird nursery caretakers, and wildlife care assistants. Additional volunteers provide skilled help in advocacy work and wildlife projects providing professional skills such as arborist, architect, specialist veterinarian services, and carpenter.

Operating a full-service wildlife rehabilitation center and hospital requires a huge investment in infrastructure—equipment, supplies, buildings, vehicles, and trained staff—to be able to meet the diverse needs of a wide array of species. In a typical week, the following supplies might be on the order list: 500 pounds of smelt, 100 pounds of trout, 40,000 mealworms, fruit and vegetables, hay, clover, grass, cat food, dog chow, vitamins, minerals, supplements, antihelminthics, antibiotics, leather and latex gloves, surgical sutures, oxygen and x-ray film, wire mesh and vinyl-coated wire, lumber and light bulbs, bleach, bactericides, staples, a chain saw and surgical scissors, printer paper and toilet paper, computer software and brooms, nets and crates, maps, towels and sheets, and newspaper. (See our Web site at for our wildlife wish list.)

Wildlife rehabilitation is a complex ballet of science and intuition, experience and common sense, a sometimes lyrical unfolding of the covenant between people who care for wildlife in distress and the wide array of species and individual animals needing care. The work is often dirty, hard, unremitting labor, but it offers both an underlying sense of “right action” as well as moments of great joy and exultation.

Several months and thousands of hours dedicated to providing professional care, appropriate food, complex medical treatment and customized housing, all come together when the animal, no longer a patient, is returned to the wild. In a brief flurry of wings, a short run into the woods, a heave of flippers into the water, one more life returns to the wild.

In our busy, often impersonal world, where human violence and destruction too often are the counterpoints in a changing environment, we have saved one more wild life. And in doing so, perhaps we have taken another small step toward sanity and a more humane and compassionate world that values all life.

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