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Starting a Wildlife Rehabilitation Hospital

By Pauline Baker, Think Wild, July 2020

Starting a wildlife rehabilitation hospital from scratch is no easy feat. It takes a lot of multi-tasking and pushing yourself out of your comfort zone. Many “hats” will have to be worn. This article will discuss 7 initial tasks to start a wildlife rehabilitation center. Note that before starting this journey, a clear mission statement should already be established. 

The first step is to develop and maintain a good working relationship with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW), specifically your District Biologist, and United States Fisheries and Wildlife (USFW). Both agencies issue permits to legally rehabilitate wildlife in the State of Oregon. 

Next, design and build all necessary enclosures. Network and consult with as many other rehabilitation centers (with similar climates) on how they built their enclosures and what materials were used. There is no need to reinvent the wheel. It is beneficial to develop as many key relationships with construction professionals as possible, as this will help save money while developing and building your enclosures. Some key relationships to build and maintain would be with the county/city building department, structural and civil engineers, contractors, architects, and material suppliers. Think Wild secured a discount of about $40,000 on enclosure materials using this method. Make sure that all enclosures abide by the minimum standards for wildlife enclosures made by the National Wildlife Rehabilitation Association Minimum Standards for Wildlife Rehabilitation (4th ED, 2012). 

The third task to complete is to recruit volunteers and develop a volunteer training program. Having this program in place prior to having volunteers onsite helps with the volunteer on-boarding process. Fourth, create a network of rescue and transport volunteers. Think Wild utilizes the platform Slack, and we have had good success with finding volunteers available for transport and rescues in a timely manner. Fifth, general Standard Operating Protocols (SOP’s) should be created to help aid with daily work-flow. Start with the basics (Critical care, general orphaned bird or mammal protocols, fluid therapy, SOAP’s), and collect data on incoming patients to begin to develop species-specific protocols. A good resource to have while developing these protocols is NWRA’s Principles of Wildlife Rehabilitation: The Essential Guide for Novice and Experienced Rehabilitators. 

The sixth task is to develop and maintain good working relationships with co-rehabilitators in the area. Many rehabilitation centers specialize in one type of animal, and it is critical to be aware of their specializations when fielding hotline calls. Maintaining these key relationships is imperative for helping as many injured or orphaned wildlife in your area with the best care possible. 

The final task necessary to begin the journey of starting a wildlife hospital is establish a good working relationship with a local veterinarian. The veterinarian having wildlife experience is a plus but not necessary. In my experience, a highly motivated and passionate veterinarian will work just fine! 

This list is by no means exhaustive, but it is a good starting point. Beginning a wildlife hospital is no easy task, and do not be afraid to ask for help when needed. It truly takes a village!

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