WildAgain Wildlife Rehabilitation, Inc.

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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. You saw a television program or published article about rehabilitating wildlife. Maybe you found a wild orphan, took it to a wildlife rehabilitator, and thought "I might like to be a rehabber." All of these and more are reasons that prompt people to seek more 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 and you can learn about wildlife rehabilitation in a less pressured manner.

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.

A variety of governmental regulations apply, requiring both state and, at times, federal permits in order to possess wildlife. 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 permitted wildlife rehabilitators in Colorado. Most rehabilitators are located on the Front Range and operate small home-based facilities with both inside and outdoor cages. There are less than a dozen rehabilitation centers in Colorado that are 'stand alone 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, larger rehabilitation centers depend on a substantial base of volunteer staff.

Since wildlife is the property of the state, permits 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 state and federal permits are required for rehabilitating most birds, as well as threatened and endangered species (and marine mammals). The CDOW rehabilitation regulations may be downloaded from http://wildlife.state.co.us/regulations/ch14.pdf.

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.

Colorado rehabilitation regulations limit Rehabilitators to sponsoring a maximum of three Provisionals at a time. 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 becoming applying for a Provisional rehabilitation license should become very familiar with and follow the Provisional Guidelines provided by the CDOW Special Licensing Unit.

Getting started as a wildlife rehabilitator

  • Become familiar with wildlife rehabilitation by reading the wildlife rehabilitation brochure and booklet and contacting experienced wildlife rehabilitators.
  • Volunteer for a wildlife rehabilitator or rehabilitation facility. Find out if you like the work!
  • 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.
  • Contact the CDOW and review the application and related materials. Learn relevant local, state, and federal regulation that could impact wildlife rehabilitation, such as health department policies, animal control ordinances, or local zoning (city and county).
  • Identify and arrange for a potential sponsor. Sponsors will have different approaches to helping you prepare to be a rehabilitator so it is critical to clarify expectations.
  • Learn more 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), Journal of Wildlife Rehabilitation (IWRC), and Wildlife Rehabilitation (NWRA). 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.
  • Apply for and obtain the appropriate state and federal permits.

By now, it is clear that wildlife rehabilitation has many different aspects. While it takes time and effort to get a permit 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


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