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Becoming a Wildlife Rehabilitator in Colorado

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Curious about rehabilitating wildlife in Colorado?

You have a keen interest in wildlife and believe rehabilitating wild animals would be rewarding. Maybe you found a wild orphan, took it to a wildlife rehabilitator, and thought "I might like to be a rehabber." You saw a television program or published article about rehabilitating wildlife. These and more reasons prompt people to seek information about wildlife rehabilitation.

If you found a wild animal in need and want to care for it yourself, go to 911 for wildlife, find and contact a local wildlife rehabilitator, and immediately take the wild animal to that person. The wild animal needs immediate aid from a qualified and licensed rehabilitator. This help can greatly increase the animal's chance of survival, reduce health risks for the animal and you, and you can learn about wildlife rehabilitation in a less pressured manner that enhance the process.

Wildlife rehabilitation

Wildlife rehabilitation is the process of providing aid to injured, orphaned, displaced, or distressed wildlife in such a way that they may survive when released back to their native habitat. Wildlife rehabilitation is not just about loving wildlife, providing temporary care, and letting it go back into the wild. Wildlife rehabilitation requires knowledge of natural history, biology, medicine, diseases, parasites, zoonoses, caging, release criteria and protocols, and wildlife laws. It requires special diets, cages, and supplies, as well as special skills. Wildlife rehabilitation requires a substantial time commitment by the rehabilitator, as well as other resources.

Since wildlife is the property of the state, licenses to possess wildlife are required by the Colorado Division of Wildlife (CDOW). As such, wildlife in temporary captivity, even if just for rehabilitation, remains under the authority of the CDOW. Both the state rehab license and a permit granted by the US Fish and Wildlife Service are required for rehabilitating all but a couple species of birds, as well as threatened and endangered species (and marine mammals). The CDOW rehabilitation regulations may be downloaded from the CDOW website.

Wildlife rehabilitation is a growing activity with a rapidly expanding knowledge base and ever increasing standards. Caring about wildlife is important, but is only one requirement of wildlife rehabilitation.

Rehabilitation in Colorado

There are about 100 licensed wildlife rehabilitators in Colorado. Most rehabilitators are located on the Front Range and operate small home-based facilities with both inside and outdoor cages. Colorado currently has ten or less 'stand alone' rehab centers that are not located at a home. Wildlife rehabilitation centers generally rehabilitate larger numbers of animals than home-based rehabilitators.

While home-based rehabilitation facilities may occasionally involve volunteers helping with animal care or special projects, larger rehabilitation centers depend on a substantial base of volunteer staff. Regulations require that rehabilitators provide training for unlicensed people helping with direct animal care, whether volunteers, interns or seasonal staff. People considering becoming a wildlife rehabilitator are strongly encouraged to volunteer in order to become familiar with the work, help them identify special interests, and get to know potential sponsors.

Publications to help you learn about wildlife rehabilitation

Learn About Wildlife Rehabilitation is a short brochure that provides a brief introduction to the activity. It describes home-based wildlife rehabilitators who have their own rehabilitation permit and a facility on their own property (translation: home and yard), as well as larger wildlife rehabilitation centers.

Wildlife Rehabilitation: Is It For You? is a longer booklet with more detailed information on basic rehabilitation activities. It describes basic requirements of wildlife rehabilitators, including time, commitment, space, access to funding, knowledge and skill, a veterinarian, and relevant state and federal permits. It identifies some common myths about wildlife rehabilitation, such as wildlife rehabilitation is a hobby, a fun activity, that loving wildlife qualifies someone to be a rehabilitator, and that the government pays for rehabilitating wildlife. It suggests a variety of ways to help wildlife, by volunteering with direct or indirect animal care, becoming a wildlife rehabilitator, or getting involved in other activities.

After reading the brochure and booklet, you should have a better idea of what is involved in being a wildlife rehabilitator. Many people find that wildlife rehabilitation is different from what they expected. Some may feel that time, space, or financial requirements of being a home-based rehabilitator does not work at this time, but they are interested in volunteering for a wildlife rehabilitation organization. Some will decide to pursue other activities that support wildlife, such as working on habitat protection or wildlife education. Some may decide that rehabilitating wildlife looks like something that they want and can do, and seek more information.

Both of these documents identify some rehabilitation organizations in Colorado who are willing to talk with you. In addition to providing general information about wildlife rehabilitation, they may refer you to other wildlife rehabilitators.

Types of things rehabilitators need to know

As mentioned before, rehabilitators need to know many things in order to provide the best care for wildlife. The basic list, as developed in 1996 by a national task force of wildlife rehabilitators, including leadership from the National Wildlife Rehabilitators Association (NWRA) and the International Wildlife Rehabilitation Council (IWRC), includes the following for the species the applicant wants to rehabilitate:

  • Regulations affecting wildlife rehabilitation. This includes state and federal wildlife rehabilitation regulations, state and local health ordinances, local zoning, etc.,
  • Basic identification of wildlife species,
  • Natural history and behavior of wildlife species,
  • Humane solutions and problem prevention regarding human-wildlife conflicts,
  • Facilities/caging/habitat needs for the wildlife species,
  • Diet and nutrition of wildlife species, 
  • Safe capture and handling of wildlife species, 
  • Identification and general assessment of basic wildlife problems and conditions, 
  • Basic first aid and problem-solving of wildlife species, 
  • Wildlife diseases, including zoonoses,
  • Euthanasia criteria and methods,
  • Release criteria, considerations, preparation,
  • Public contact (handling phone calls, getting information and animals, education, etc.),
  • Ethics of wildlife rehabilitation,
  • Working with orphans (including imprinting issues) of wildlife species, and 
  • Basic resources and references.

A more complete description of wildlife rehabilitation proficiencies was developed and offered by WildAgain to support rehabilitation apprentices and their sponsors. The list of things to learn and skills to develop as a rehabilitator is fairly long and may initially seem overwhelming. However, you don't have to know all of this to get started! Rather this knowledge and skill can be achieved gradually by reading, training, watching videos, talking with resource people (rehabilitators, veterinarians, biologists, and others), attending conferences, and lots of other ways. New wildlife rehabilitators can, with the help of other rehabilitators and their sponsor/mentor, develop a plan to achieve a solid knowledge base with these items.

The Colorado Division of Wildlife - Special Licensing Unit, which oversees wildlife rehabilitation licensing, has developed extremely useful materials for people interested in becoming rehabilitators. Visit their website to see a flow chart about the process, provisional guidelines, examples of learning plans, Study Guide, application, consulting veterinary agreement form, inspection form, and more.

About wildlife rehabilitation sponsors

Colorado rehabilitation regulations require that a new rehabilitator obtain a Provisional wildlife rehabilitation license. The sponsor must have a current Colorado wildlife rehabilitation license and a minimum of three years experience holding a full Wildlife Rehabilitation license. In addition, the sponsor should have a solid foundation of knowledge and experience in rehabilitating wildlife - as well as willingness and time to teach and supervise the Provisional.

Colorado rehabilitation regulations limit rehabilitators to sponsoring a maximum of three Provisionals at a time in order to be able to provide adequate time, attention, and support. Not all people with full rehabilitation licenses may decide to be sponsors due to their own level of knowledge and experience, time limitations, and personal interest.

The sponsor plays an essential role in the training and development of a new rehabilitator. In many cases, the sponsor will want the new rehabilitator to read rehabilitation resource materials, attend training, and volunteer under the sponsor's direct supervision in order to develop basic knowledge and skill before agreeing to sponsor the person wanting to become a Provisional. The sponsor has an important responsibility in advising the provisional rehabilitator on the preparation of their facility, identification of critical resources and supplies, and overseeing the person's direct animal care.

Anyone considering applying for a Provisional rehabilitation license should become very familiar with and follow the Provisional Guidelines (pdf) provided by the CDOW Special Licensing Unit.

Getting started as a wildlife rehabilitator

  • Develop a general understanding of what is involved with wildlife rehabilitation by reading the wildlife rehabilitation brochure and booklet and contacting experienced wildlife rehabilitators.
  • Volunteer for a wildlife rehabilitator or rehabilitation facility. This will involve training, a variety of tasks, and time commitment. Find out if you like the work, identify species of high personal interest (e.g. songbirds, raptors, waterfowl, rabbits, squirrels), and consider the options.
  • Discuss with your family the degree to which you want to be involved and what that might mean. The wildlife rehabilitation booklet is a useful guide for that discussion. Some people will want to remain volunteers working a half day a week or a couple times a month, while others may choose to pursue obtaining their own rehab license with the the increased time and resources required.
  • Review the rehab information and application on the CDOW website, USFWS regulations, and related materials. Consider the relevant local, state, and federal regulations that affect wildlife rehabilitation, such as health department policies, animal control ordinances, or local zoning (city and county).
  • Rehabilitators have different experience and expertise, types of licenses, approaches, and workloads. It is helpful to identify and talk with several potential sponsors to see which might be the best match. The names of potential sponsors are available from rehabilitators as well as on a rehabilitator list posted on the CDOW website.
  • Have the potential sponsor visit the area where you plan to conduct your rehab activities to advise on the appropriateness, type of cages, etc. - and advise if and how the space may work for wildlife rehab activities.
  • Develop an agreement with the potential sponsor and clarify expectations. Consider documenting the expectations so you are both clear about the activities, responsibilities, timeframe, etc.
  • Work with the Sponsor to develop the Rehab Learning Plan required by CDOW regulations, review the Rehab Study Guide Questions, and establish a schedule.
  • Keep learning about wildlife rehabilitation by reading, attending training programs, and talking with experienced rehabilitators. Examples of publications that new rehabilitators have found useful include the NWRA/IWRC Minimum Standards for Wildlife Rehabilitation, Wild Neighbors (Hadidian, et al; Fulcrum Publishing), and NWRA Principles of Wildlife Rehabilitation. Schedules for rehabilitation training programs in Colorado may be available from rehabilitators or at www.Ewildagain.org.
  • Obtain resource materials and supplies. Prepare facility.
  • Find and arrange for a veterinarian willing to work with wildlife on medical problems. Have the veterinarian complete the Consulting Veterinary Agreement section of the rehab application.
  • Apply for and obtain the appropriate state rehab license, as well as the USFWS permit if you plan to rehab migratory birds.

By now, it is clear that wildlife rehabilitation has many different aspects. While it takes time and effort to get a rehabilitation license and become a qualified wildlife rehabilitator, being able to provide effective help to wild animals in need and see them released back to the wild is a tremendous achievement! Becoming a wildlife rehabilitator is not easy, but it is achievable and very worthwhile.

Thanks for your interest in wildlife rehabilitation in Colorado.

WildAgain Wildlife Rehabilitation

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Colorado has two types of wildlife rehabilitation licenses.  A full wildlife rehab license specifies the species that may be rehabilitated.

The other is a "Provisional" license for new rehabilitators who are building their initial rehab knowledge, skill, and experience. Rehab regulations require that a Provisional be sponsored by a fully licensed rehabilitator who provides training, advice and supervision to ensure effective wildlife care.

The Colorado state wildlife rehabilitation regulations are listed in Chapter 14 of the Colorado Division of Wildlife Regulations.

People who want to rehabilitate birds also need a bird rehabilitation permit issued by the US Fish and Wildlife Service.






Copyright 2008. WildAgain Wildlife Rehabilitation, Inc. All Rights Reserved unless otherwise stated.