Careers in wildlife rehabilitation, where to start and what to expect
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By George Bethell, Learning and Engagement Officer at Secret World Wildlife
Secret World Wildlife Rescue is a charity based in Somerset that has been helping British wildlife for over 30 years. The aim of the charity is to rescue, rehabilitate and release orphaned and injured wildlife. On average Secret World helps around 5,000 animals a year and offers advice on up to 10,000 cases. Animals through the door vary from regular visitors such as hedgehogs, foxes and garden birds through to more unusual species like moles, polecats and cuckoos. Secret World employs just over 30 members of staff and relies on 100’s of volunteers to help collect and care for animal casualties as well as keep the site running safely.
George started Secret World in October 2021 as their Learning and Engagement Officer and has since been involved in many aspects of the charity. Running educational talks and practical sessions for schools, youth groups and community groups; helping on animal care, fundraising and animal releases to name but a few. George studied Geography at university in Bristol and completed a placement year at an outdoor education centre, teaching primary aged children about the environment and local ecology while improving their resilience and team working skills. After university George worked in several public engagement roles including Bristol Zoo and We the Curious, this led to his role at Secret World.
What does a typical day working with injured wildlife look like? Simply put, no two days are the same in wildlife rehab, one of the key skills of the role is adaptability and being able to deal with changing situations. Although each day may be different there is a routine that animal carers aim to follow. There are several animal sections at Secret World which are described in detail below. Animals are checked, medicated where necessary, cleaned, watered, and fed on each section in the morning and afternoon. As they develop through their rehabilitation journey the cleaning process may be limited to once a day as their needs are not so intensive and to reduce human contact. Animal carers administer pain relief and medication according to the protocols drawn up by the vet. Admissions can come in at any time of the day with the phone lines open from 8am to 8pm, 365 days a year.
There are several sections at Secret World which deal with animals in different stages of the rehabilitation process. Admissions are where all animals start their journey in the assessment room, being assessed and triaged by an animal carer and a decision made on the level of care required. On average 40% of admissions are viable for rehabilitation, and some of these cases can be very distressing.
Young animals are placed in the orphan room where they can be closely monitored and given regular feeds. We have a fox cub room within our orphan room, to keep predator / prey species separate. The badger cubs start their rehabilitation journey in the badger cub room, age and development dependant.
Other smaller and younger animals head to the hospital rooms, these multi-function rooms offer space for animals that require more intensive care. The mammal room mainly consists of intensive care hedgehogs and rodents, the bird room predominantly houses garden birds and pigeons when they require regular feeds. The recovery room is a less intensive, cooler room the animals move into before progressing to the next stage of their journey.
There is also an isolation room for infectious cases of animals who require barrier nursing, such as ringworm hedgehogs.
Our Millie Block houses larger species such as adult foxes, badgers and deer that arrive, and larger birds. This is also where the fox and badger cubs move to as they develop and require larger facilities, and where other species move to during their progress. The Millie block consists of various sized inside and outside pens, aviaries and hedgehog facilities. The final area that our animals move to are the pre-release rehabilitation pens, these large outdoor pens and aviaries allow the animals in our care to exhibit natural behaviours with minimal human contact, preparing them for the wild. An animal carer checks, cleans, feeds and waters the animals once a day, with an afternoon/evening feed. After their stay here they are ready for release. Animal carers will rotate around these sections monthly, running the section with the invaluable help of volunteers.
There are several key skills that employers look for in the animal care sector, some of these have already been discussed above. An enthusiasm for the role is essential as the days can often be long and quite tiring, the sector functions due to the dedication and time that people put in through their love of wildlife. Timekeeping and attention to detail is important with feeds and medication required at specific intervals to provide the best care. Good observation skills and a high standard of animal husbandry is required. The ability to work as part of a team will allow you to solve problems and complete tasks that may be difficult on your own. Good communication skills are vital for training new volunteers and members of staff. Candidates should be hardworking and willing to work outside in all weathers, you might be cleaning an aviary in glorious sunshine one day and pressure washing a pen in the pouring rain the next. The role is often physical and can be challenging, especially in the busy season, with some sad outcomes. Resilience is an important skill to have here, working with animals can lead to the unexpected. Caring for orphans round the clock for days on end to have some pass away. But this unpredictability can also be the best part of the job, there is no better feeling than watching an animal you have cared for take its first steps back into the wild, knowing that you have helped them on their journey.
Volunteering is a great way to gain experience in the sector, employers look favourably on this as it shows you have an interest and willingness to learn. It also provides a great opportunity to test the waters and see if the role is suited to you. You can learn which species and areas of rehabilitation are of greater interest. Even if you are unable to volunteer at a wildlife centre you can pick up transferrable skills from volunteering in any sector. This could be improving your organisational and time management skills, learning to work effectively in a team or proving that you are hardworking. Training courses are a great way to further your wildlife knowledge and boost your C.V. they show employers that you have a genuine interest in the role you are applying for. A final piece of advice, take advantage of every opportunity, especially if it is something you are not confident doing. If you are asked to present at a conference but do not like speaking in public, look at it as an opportunity to overcome that fear and further your personal progression, the more times you do something, the easier it will become.
One of the best parts about working in the animal care industry is the fact that no two days are the same. Earlier in the year we received a phone call from a local prison who were having some building work done. Upon lifting the floor, they discovered a mum and three baby hoglets, all apparently in good health. Normally in this situation we would ask the finder to leave the family where they are however, we decided a prison was not the most suitable environment for a family of hedgehogs. We asked them to bring the hogs in; they stayed at Secret World until the young had grown to a suitable weight where they were released at a better site. You also come across some interesting marvels of nature, a few months ago an admission of three orphaned shrews left our staff in awe with one of the orphans being leucistic. This mutation causes a lack of pigment resulting in the whitish fur you can see in the image. After much research our animal carers were unable to find anyone else who had come across this mutation in a shrew before.
To find out more about the work of Secret World Wildlife Rescue and view the training courses they offer please visit https://www.secretworld.org/
First published in CJS Focus on Working with Wildlife in association with The Wildlife Trusts on 17 October 2022. Read the full issue here
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