What is true wildlife rescue and rehabilitation anyway?

Visitor beware! Not all wildlife rescue and rehabilitation is what it appears to be. Take a look at what it really is.

What is true wildlife rescue and rehabilitation anyway?

We live in a world where conservation is indispensable in the survival of animals everywhere. With so much negativity surrounding animal tourism which sometimes goes under the guise of ‘conservation efforts’, just what is true wildlife rescue and rehabilitation and how can we tell the difference between an organisation saving a species and an organisation making money from them?

In my quest to find these answers, I spoke to some of the people working tirelessly to save the lives of animals caught in hunters’ traps or attacked by humans, who are sick or orphaned.

What does it take for a successful rescue?

For the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, the rescue of an animal can be a grueling task. According to Kirsty Smith, “timing is crucial” as animals may need re-hydrating as well as formula or treatment. Elephants are particularly emotional and their sensitivity adds pressure to the rescue.

Conditions of the rescue add worry as Kirsty explained. It depends on: “how remote the place is… walking on foot… or in a vehicle… obtaining a vehicle.” Rescues also involve moving large amount of equipment for a rescue such as: tarpaulin, blankets, water, IV drips and medicines.

DSWT baby elephant drinking 2000x

Natalie Rogers, a vet nurse with Rhino Revolution Organisation echoes these challenges. For them, a rhino rescue involves many professionals: vets, farmers, anti-poaching units, permit officers and search and rescue helicopters amongst others. She can’t stress how difficult it can be to locate a rhino in large areas. Then, the timing is crucial to prevent predators or the elements from reaching the calves first – who often stay with the carcass of their mothers.

For her, it is best to stay at the facility and prepare for the imminent arrival of a scared, bewildered and physically exhausted baby so any treatment needed can be instant.

Chipoko baby orphaned rhino 2000x

What happens next?

The rehabilitation of an animal – be it an elephant, rhino, vervet or other species is not a ‘quick fix’. Depending on age and injuries, it can weeks to months for a young animal to adapt to a facility and be introduced to other babies or surrogate mothers. Their rehabilitation can then take years.

Natalie stresses how PTSD can add to a calves’ plight. She states, “this is something that cannot be underestimated. The stress these calves go through when they lose their mothers can cause life threatening ulcers and colic.” Once a calf is brought out of sedation, they are NEVER left alone during their rehabilitation, meaning hours of professional time being taken to care for them as they are steadily introduced to other rhinos. Volunteers are not allowed to be a part of the rehabilitation period to avoid the adverse effects of undue human contact.

White rhinos stay with their mothers for up to three years, drinking milk for the first 18 months. Vervet monkeys need to be released as a troop and for Bambelala, based in South Africa, this can take years to organise effectively. The care they give orphaned vervets also requires a 24/7 method with babies being fed every few hours. They too, take prolonged periods to adjust and be introduced to other monkeys.

The effort, money and dedication that such organisations and facilities put into animal rescue and rehabilitation is testament of their determination to protect animals. They go to great lengths to ensure that human-wildlife contact is kept to a minimum whilst the care they give is constant. This is no mean feat.

For some, less-obliging organisations, this is not the case.

Real rehabilitation versus animal tourism.

One of the biggest challenges faced by NGOs of animal rescue is money. They rely heavily on donations and some, like Bambelela, fund their organisations out of their own pockets as well. One way to help them raise money is to open their rehabilitation facilities and sanctuaries to the public and publicise their work on social media.

The key difference between these facilities and those making monetary gain is that they do not allow interaction with rescued animals. To do so can damage months of rehabilitation and rescued animals have a strong fight or flight instinct in the early stages of rehabilitation.

Those who take rehabilitation seriously do so with the aim to release animals back into the wild once they are stable and capable of looking after themselves successfully. They allow visitors to view animals in as natural a way as possible; allowing you to see their true characteristics and antics. The DSWF allows visitors for short periods of time to interact with animals, if the animal chooses to do so but petting and cuddling is not permitted.

In some organisations like Bambelela, the animals who can’t be released are transferred to on site sanctuaries to live out their lives as naturally as possible. This means human contact should be kept only to what is necessary, or fair – this doesn’t include selfies, hugs or feeding animals in front of a camera.

If you are given the opportunity to do any of things, the likelihood is the organisation is using conservation as a guise to make money out of your visit. Don’t let this happen.

Any organisation rehabilitating animals must have a Rehabilitation and Hospitalization Licence across various south and east African countries – Kenya, however, is one that doesn’t. So, if you are visiting a facility and not you’re sure how legitimate they are, research if they need one and ask if they have one or if you can see it.

If the organisation publicly advertises interaction with their animals, don’t be drawn in by the temptation. It is possible the animals are not treated appropriately. The only benefit of your visit and your money is the owner’s financial gain.

With that said, please do support the true wildlife rescue and rehabilitation centers. They can truly use your help.

Contributed by Liz Hoyle

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