By Vern and Lori Gieger
Vaya Con Dios
On July 7th, we were fortunate to be able to release several rehabilitated orphaned and / or injured wildlife that we had received in recent months 28 animals in total. Releasing a wild animal back into their natural habitat, where they belong, is a richly rewarding experience.
Watching them venture off exploring their new territory is a thrilling experience. The two Alicantes (corn snakes) quickly disappeared under rocks while the opossums slowly meandered their way through the thick underbrush. The release of the cacomistle (the least social and smallest member of the raccoon family) was by far the most spectacular. He posed beautifully while sniffing new scents in the air and strutting his stuff as he elegantly sauntered on to the top of a rocky protrusion, occasionally gazing back at us as if to say, thank you. As he disappeared into the distance, taking a piece of our hearts with him, we all wished him well.
Far too often however release is not an option. Many factors determine whether an animal is releasable or not. Sadly, many times their fate is sealed long before they reach a rehabilitation center. To be releasable the animal must have the skills, instincts and the physical capacity to use them in order to survive.
Can wildlife raised in captivity be rehabilitated so it can be released?
Not always. If the animal has been raised as a “pet,” in all probability it will never be releasable. Orphaned babies raised in captivity for release are managed accordingly. Human contact is minimal. Ideally they would be fed with a “hand puppet” and never see a human face or hear a human voice. Contact with domestic animals such as cats and dogs are never permitted. Predatory animals must have an environment where they have the opportunity to learn to hunt. It is a skill that must be learned. This normally would be taught by the parent(s).
Are some animals more easily rehabilitated?
Yes. Reptiles and amphibians, barring physical disabilities, are almost always releasable. Animals that are solitary and timid by nature such as opossums and barn owls are also more adaptable.
Why are some animals more difficult?
Animals that are social and or curious by nature tend to be more challenging. A good example is the common raccoon. As they tend to imprint on humans very easily, even under optimal circumstances.
What does the word “imprint” mean?
When an animal does not recognize itself as a member of a particular species and / or does not relate to others of its own species. This may happen when it is raised by people. Although “imprinted” animals may have no physical disability, they cannot be released into the wild because they relate to humans and therefore have no fear of them.
What about wild adult animals that are injured?
Much depends on the injury. Many can be successfully rehabilitated. However, if the animal will have a permanent disability which inhibits its chance for survival it can not be released. Two common examples that deem an animal non-releasable are birds that have sustained broken wings and animals that have been caught in a steel jawed trap. Many times the leg must be amputated.
What are options for non releasable animals?
Just because an animal is not releasable does not mean its life is any less important. Depending upon the species, the animal may be used in captive breeding programs. Equally important are educational programs. The more people understand wildlife and their importance, the more will strive to protect them and their habitat. Non releasable animals give people an opportunity to get up close and personal - get to “know them” so to speak. As a result a new appreciation for wildlife is established.
If a picture is worth a 1000 words…imagine the emotional experience of looking into the eyes of a wolf or having a bird of prey perched on your arm. The non-releasable animals become advocates for their species through education.