Wildlife Rehabilitators (And Hunting)

By Joe Miele, President of C.A.S.H.

[As this article is quite critical of the game agencies that license rehabbers, to avoid problems, all rehab photos are from UK sites.]

Though hunters like to portray themselves as expert sharpshooters, able to kill animals with a single shot, the truth is that many victims of hunting are wounded and left to fend for themselves. While these animals will most likely die of infection or will be attacked and killed by predators since their weakened state affords them no chance for escape or self defense, a tiny number of them somehow end up in the hands of licensed wildlife rehabilitators who do their best to return the animals to health and release them back to their natural habitat.

“Woodpecker being fed grubs

Wildlife rehabilitators are licensed animal care givers who help injured, orphaned, or sick wildlife. The goal of wildlife rehabilitation is to provide food, housing and medical care to wildlife in need before returning them to the wild when the animals are ready to be released. Rehabbers do not turn the animals into human companions, they care for them as well as possible, while still allowing them to retain their “wild” instincts and behaviors. Wild animals are often transitioned from a hands-on situation (such as bottle feeding orphaned babies) to an enclosed area with little human interaction other than routine watering, feeding, and observation before they are released back to the wild. In some cases they are taught to hunt or find food in other ways.

Animals are brought to rehabbers by game agents, animal rescue groups, and the public. Though they are licensed by the state hunting agencies, they receive no compensation for the work they do. All expenses are covered by the rehabilitators themselves or through public donations. Sometimes rehabilitators will come together to establish wildlife rescue centers, but most often they will act on their own.

Wildlife rehabilitators often specialize in the kinds of animals they will care for. There are mammal specialists, avian specialists, reptile and amphibian specialists, etc. They will often speak to schools and civic groups about the importance of wildlife and the kind of work they do, sometimes bringing a fortunate but unreleaseable animal with them as a living example of their important work.

In this article, we’d like to highlight the work of wildlife rehabbers who selflessly subject themselves to sleepless nights, scratches and dangerous bites, zero leisure time, financial hardship, and more emotional ups and downs than a roller coaster at Six Flags. C.A.S.H. reached out to wildlife rehabilitators through our Facebook page and heard from two rehabbers who were kind enough to answer our questions. Their names have been changed to protect their identities, something that is necessary because the agencies that license them are the same state hunting agencies responsible for animal suffering. If rehabbers speak on the record negatively about hunting it could jeopardize the work they do for the animals.

We are thankful to these wonderful people for doing such difficult work on behalf of wildlife. Keep in mind that the thoughts and opinions stated below are those of the rehabber themselves and not necessarily those of C.A.S.H. or its officers.

C.A.S.H.: We have a few questions for you. Which species do you rehabilitate?

Mike: I work with coyotes, bobcats, foxes, raccoons, skunks, squirrels (tree, ground, flying), moles, voles, gophers, wild rats, wild mice and bats. No birds.

Nancy: Small mammals, mostly opossums, squirrels and fawns and birds that are not covered by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (because I do not have a federal rehab license).

C.A.S.H.: How has hunting affected your rehab work/affected the wild animals?

Mike: I am located in a major metropolitan city so there is no real hunting where I live and work. The hunters were trying to make it legal to use dogs to tree bobcats and bears in other areas of the state and fortunately we fought that and it didn’t pass. If you’ve ever seen videos of dogs ripping raccoons apart while they are still alive, it is gruesome. A rehabber friend of mine has major problems with hunters. Some have trespassed onto her property and killed her sanctuary animals. Sometimes hunters will not make a kill shot and just maim the animal. The rehabber then has to patch them up. She also has problems with fur trappers. People’s dogs or cats are accidentally trapped and killed in the traps. It’s a constant battle where she is.

There is a problem in the city with illegal “hunters.” They are probably just young men or kids shooting them with guns and bows and arrows. I can’t tell you how many bb’s, darts and arrow tips I’ve pulled out of wildlife. The police don’t even realize that it’s illegal so they don’t do anything when we complain. Most mammals are protected as are most birds. With some species it’s a $20,000 fine to harm them. With endangered species it’s up to $100,000.

We do have a problem with fishermen. They get upset when a wild animal such as a pelican takes their catch. Few years back someone was killing pelicans for this reason. Fishermen also hate seals for the same reason. They were putting explosive bait on the line. The seals and sea lions would take the bait and their mouths would explode.

Nancy: Many animals come in with wounds caused by hunting or trapping. The huge problem with trapping is, besides being plain cruel, is that it is indiscriminate and non-target animals suffer. I am still haunted by the image harbored in my brain of the Red Tail hawk who was caught in a leghold trap. She had obviously been stuck in that snare for a very long time. Her leg was necrotized and the foot hanging by tissue. You could see in her eyes that she had accepted death. I had to euthanize her. I still cry over it. Every year, I get called for at least one goose impaled by an arrow. I find it frustrating that hunters are often looked at as the gurus of wildlife and their positions are more valid than mine and people often consult a hunter in regard to a wildlife rehabbing issue. Somehow, there is a perception that the hunter knows best, which is not the case. I have taken orphans that almost didn’t get saved because a hunter said the mother will retrieve them, which was not so with this species.

C.A.S.H.: Are you impacted by pest control services or animal damage control trappers? How so?

Mike: We are indeed. At least with hunting you can’t take an adult female during the time she would normally have babies. Pest control operators can set traps or kill mothers any time and they leave orphaned babies behind. This happens mainly with raccoons and squirrels. We get inundated during baby season with orphans to the point we have to turn them away. We’re trying to lobby for a new law to make it illegal to take mothers during baby season. Most of the animals we get in are orphans.

Nancy: I often get called to remove “nuisance” animals though I am not licensed to do this. The so-called “nuisance” experts rely on propaganda and fear to motivate customers to buy their services. Because of this, it is difficult trying to re-educate the public in regard to wildlife control strategies. Many times an animal will just leave on her own without further intervention. This is especially true of mothers with young who have taken up residence in a tree, under a porch, or under a shed. I try to convince people to wait out baby season before taking any action against the animal and if they can’t, to at least get them to use non-lethal environmental modifications that will discourage wildlife from taking up residence. I also point out the good that animals do and how they are beneficial to the environment. I am happy to say that most people are receptive to this approach and most do not want the animals harmed. But sadly, every year I see either non-target animals caught on glue traps, snap traps or birds of prey that succumb to rodenticide after ingesting prey that has eaten rat poison. Very sad and unnecessary.

Internet photo from:  http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2117544/Orphaned-baby-owls-Linford-Christie-hoot-new-home.html

C.A.S.H.: How does the game agency affect rehabbers/rehabilitation efforts?

Mike: All wildlife rehabilitators are licensed by the state wildlife agency – the same one that sets hunting seasons and bag limits. My state has a rehabilitator coordinator who oversees all rehabbers. We have to pay for a permit, must be inspected and follow a long list of rules and regulations. We are no longer allowed to rehabilitate large mammals such as adult bears, mountain lions, deer or wild boar. They believe it’s too dangerous. We can rehab baby bears, mountain lions, and fawns if we have the proper permits.

Nancy: In my state, they require licensing to rehabilitate and a special license to rehabilitate what are considered Rabies Vector Species (bats, raccoons, skunks – RVS). I have been told by a high level agency official that they really don’t even want us rehabbing RVS. It was felt that people would rehab anyway, so they put the license in place and at least there would be some monitoring of RVS. The state game agency does not support rehabbing. They offer no education, training, or funding. The agency does not do any physical monitoring of rehabbers, and their practices and any policy of acceptable standards is lacking, for example, there are no caging requirements for non-RVS species. They have also prohibited rehabbers from using public land to release rehabbed animals.

C.A.S.H.: Which species are most affected by hunting?

Nancy: This is hard to determine. Every year, I see at least 2 waterfowl that are injured because of fishing line left in the water. It is very difficult to catch waterfowl and by the time I am able to do so, the bird is debilitated to the point beyond any help. I picked up a goose whose feet were entwined with line. One foot fell off. He had to be euthanized as federal law prohibits the release of a goose missing a foot. The opossum, whose full name is the Virginia Opossum because it is indigenous to the State of Virginia, was brought to my state by hunters because they were bored with indigenous wildlife – they wanted something different to kill. The Virginia Opossum is not native to my state or climate and therefore does not do well in the winter, often succumbing to frostbite or starvation. Until the 1990s, rabies was almost unheard of in my state, until hunters illegally imported raccoons from Florida. It was believed that Florida raccoons were hardier and therefore more of a challenge to kill. Now we have a problem with the raccoon strain of rabies in my state. Cats and dogs are now required by law to be vaccinated against rabies.

C.A.S.H.: Does hunting have any effect on release?

Mike: Yes. Rehabbers who live in hunting areas cannot release animals where hunting is permitted.

Nancy: Yes. I try to find areas where the animal will be less likely to be hunted.

C.A.S.H.: Is it painful to know that wild animals are being released to be killed by hunters?

Mike: The rehabbers I know in hunting areas have cried many a night when they’ve found their released deer shot dead. Sometimes the wildlife we release probably end up getting killed by cars, dogs or humans. That is painful enough. We just try to do our best to give them the best chance at survival.

Nancy: Very much. It is hard to release an animal and know what you are releasing it to. To know that you helped an animal to survive through precarious times and it could all be snuffed out in a second is difficult.

C.A.S.H.: How do you feel about natural predation (raptors, coyotes, etc.) – how does that differ from a human hunter killing wild animals?

Mike: I can understand a wild animal killing another animal for food. That is nature. With some species we care for we must feed them mice and rats. I’m not happy about it, but we must teach them to survive. Now humans are another matter. There is no need for almost anyone to hunt anymore. Hunters generally do it for the thrill, I guess. My dad’s a hunter and that’s what I see when he talks about hunting.

Nancy: Well, I don’t like to think about it, but I accept that this is nature and it serves a purpose. It is different because some animals are obligate carnivores, meaning they MUST eat flesh or die. Humans at best are, in my opinion, opportunistic omnivores, not even omnivore. A natural predator takes usually the least fit to survive, whereas human hunters take anything, which is antithetical to natural selection.

C.A.S.H.: How do you feel about pet dogs or cats killing wildlife? Any suggestions for this?

Mike: Cats and dogs are doing what comes naturally, but I think it is the responsibility of the pet’s owner to make sure their pet doesn’t kill wildlife. For starters I think cats should be indoors. It’s better for the cat and wildlife. Your cat will be healthier and live longer. I also think you should walk your dog on a leash for their own safety.

Nancy: While they can’t be held accountable, they do need to be controlled. Cats and dogs we keep as pets are not indigenous to the North American continent and predation by these species has a negative impact on local wildlife populations. About 25% of the animals I get in are from cat attacks. They cause far more suffering than hunting does. This is not an indictment of felis domesticus – I have 6 cats. Until I saw through rehabbing the damage that cats do, I let my cats roam outside. No more. They are strictly indoors.

Photo From: 

C.A.S.H.: Anything else you’d like to add?

Mike: I see no reason why people should be sport hunting. Why not just photograph the animals? Why not just hike in nature and enjoying viewing the animals? There really is no need for sport hunting in this day and age. I’m very happy that in my state the popularity of hunting is way down.

Nancy: From interacting with people through my rehabbing activities, I have seen there is a great need for public education regarding wildlife. Most people are unnecessarily fearful of wildlife. Rehabbing is what keeps me from giving up on people all together and restores my faith in humanity, when I see people, grown men included, very emotional over an injured animal and begging me to save it.




  1.  Volunteer.
  2.  Donate. Wildlife rehabilitators receive no funding from the state agencies that license them. All needed funds are out of their own pockets. If you cannot donate money, then ask about donating services such as landscaping, printing, carpentry/plumbing, etc.
  3.  Offer transportation help. Often there are times when animals need to be brought to the wildlife rehabilitator from people who have rescued them. Sometimes the rehabilitator can use your help to take animals to a veterinarian. The rehabilitator will teach you how to protect yourself. Need to find a rehabber in your area? Check out the website of your state fish and wildlife agency and if a list of rehabbers is not online, call them for more information. You can also call the Wildlife Watch hotline at 877-WILDHELP.



Contact Us

Committee to Abolish Sport Hunting / C.A.S.H.
P.O. Box 562
New Paltz, NY 12561