Helping Injured, Potentially Orphaned, or Distressed Wildlife in the Time of COVID-19.

Animal Help Now (AHNow) is in a unique position in the world of wildlife rehabilitation. The very nature of our work gives us more access than anyone to US wildlife rehabilitators.

Today we approached our focus group – a diverse cross-section of the country’s rehabilitators – asking them whether or not the coronavirus pandemic is affecting them; if so, how; and what changes, if any, they have made to their daily routines.

Their responses were reassuring. First and foremost, they seemed in agreement that the virus was not adversely impacting the US public’s willingness to assist injured, potentially orphaned, or distressed wildlife. This is good and right, as there is no known coronavirus transmission risk for people safely handling wildlife anywhere in the world, let alone the United States.

Of course, members of the public should always practice universal precautions for handling wildlife*, for the safety of both the human animal and whatever animal the human is helping.

The respondents pointed up the need for wildlife rehabilitators to be cautious when interacting with a member of the public who brings an animal to a facility. States rehabilitator Judy P: “[W]ildlife rehabilitators [may designate] only one small area for intakes, which can be disinfected after each use; have the public use hand sanitizer upon entering the premises; etc.” Judy adds, “I will be doing intakes on my porch – I work at home – and won’t let people inside the house.”

Rehabilitators at Nature’s Nurse have added (and recommend) the following safety measure for babies: “We place a carrier with a heating pad under it on our porch. We ask the finder to place the babies in the carrier and take all boxes and towels with them when they leave, and then immediately text or call, at which point we will come out and grab the babies.”

Rehabilitator Arianna M states, “We’ve doubled up on deep cleaning and routine cleaning of our center.”

As to the risk of transmission, according to the Centers for Disease Control, “Early on, many of the patients at the epicenter of the outbreak in Wuhan, Hubei Province, China had some link to a large seafood and live animal market, suggesting animal-to-person spread. Later, a growing number of patients reportedly did not have exposure to animal markets, indicating person-to-person spread.”

Which is to say, with what we know now, and in accordance with what you’ve been told, the human animal is the threat.

We’d be remiss to not end this piece with a reminder (verbatim from Johns Hopkins): Prevention involves frequent hand-washing, coughing into the bend of your elbow, and staying home when you are sick.

With hand sanitizer in high demand, you might benefit from this DIY guidance.

The American Veterinary Medical Association offers additional information, particularly with regard to protecting domestic animals, in this guide for veterinarians and these FAQs.

* As to universal precautions on handling injured, potentially orphaned, or distressed wildlife, AHNow advises:

  • To protect yourself from disease and injury (1) never approach or attempt to rescue an animal who is behaving abnormally (circling, staggering, etc.) or shows signs of disease (salivating, discharge from the eyes or nose, etc.) and (2) always wear thick gloves whenever handling wildlife.
  • Thoroughly wash your hands before and after handling wildlife.
  • Exercise caution and good judgment and consult with the experts we’ll direct you to before handling, transporting, or otherwise disturbing a wild animal. Refer to our resources page for more information.

Careful What You Prune and Fell

With apologies to Mr. Kilmer:

I know I must look hard to see
A squirrel’s nest in a leafy tree
Raccoon dens, too, elude my sight
As tree trunks reach their tow’ring heights

Most of us know by now that landscape and tree services can imperil our wild neighbors and their homes.

The climate crisis is making things worse, as in many areas squirrels, for instance, are now giving birth three times a year instead of two.

The rules are pretty simple.

  • Is the work even necessary? Dead trees provide habitat for hundreds of species. Keep them around, if you can.
  • Schedule the work for the times of year when wild animals are least apt to be raising dependent young. November through February and late May to mid-July are still the best times in most areas of the United States, but global heating is impacting this.
  • Before work begins, watch for any activity that might indicate the presence of nests or dens.
  • Ask anyone you hire to keep a lookout for nests and dens while they do their work.
  • Tell anyone you hire you do not want any animals harmed or active animal homes disturbed.
  • Tell anyone you hire to alert you immediately if animals are harmed or left homeless.

If the worst happens, use Animal Help Now to find expert assistance in caring for injured or orphaned animals.

Woodpecker, dead tree (snag)
Dead trees, whether standing or down, are priceless. Here’s a great resource
to find out more: http://cavityconservation.com/saving-dead-trees/.

A hidden crisis, an abundance of opportunity

(They’re safe.) 

Another baby/busy season is well under way, and again we at Animal Help Now are deluged with reminders that even in an age of increasing appreciation for wildlife, the critical work of wildlife rehabilitation remains woefully under-appreciated, under-supported, and underfunded. 

You’re a young raccoon in the State of New York (not that you’d call it that), and you’re out for the night with your mom and sibs, learning to find food. You come upon a roaring river, but there’s no water. Just a lot of lights and dark masses zooming by. Mom is being extremely cautious in getting you across. She waits and waits, and then she goes. But – no! – she shrieks and is violently taken by a dark mass that roars by so close you could touch it. You see her far away. She is struggling to move. She’s crying. You and your sisters go to her even though it’s not safe. But the dark masses keep coming and they strike. They strike your sisters. They strike your mother. And now none of them are moving. Mom is not moving.

She is gone. They are all gone.

You stay close, by the side of the road. The violent masses continue to roar past. You’re filled with fear, you’re dizzy, disoriented. You stay there hoping somehow something will change. You have never felt alone or scared, and now this is all you feel.

At some point the sky lightens and one of the masses slows to a stop. Something scoops you up, bundles you, and then you are carried off on a roar for who knows where, … 

If you’re this raccoon – again, this is just a very small sample of what’s happening around the country and world every day – the chances right now are very good that your life is over, that you may feel a few loving hands, but eventually you’ll hear soft voices, and then you’ll feel a short sharp pain and then your world will end.

Every day right now in New York perfectly healthy orphaned raccoons are killed not by motor vehicles, but by people who are trained to save lives. That’s because the facilities that are equipped to rehabilitate these youngsters – preparing them for life in the wild and then releasing them when they’re ready – are almost all at capacity. They cannot take more animals. And that’s because of (a) human activities result in so many wildlife injuries and deaths and (b) wildlife rehabilitation is under-appreciated, under-supported, and underfunded.

Some people will use the term euthanasia to name the killing of a healthy orphaned raccoon under these circumstances. I won’t. Though it is better to have the animal killed than to release her into the woods to fend for herself.

These are terrible options, and they exist only because wildlife rehabilitation gets short shrift while wildlife agencies focus their attention on the hunting and fishing dollar.

The two babies pictured here? Let’s call them lucky, with an asterisk. And the asterisk is the two loving hands they landed in belong to Diane W. Diane is a former wildlife rehabilitator, and she’s more resourceful and diligent than most of us. 

When Diane ended up with these guys, she accessed AHNow to find help. None of the nearest rehabilitators could help her. They either were full, or they weren’t equipped/trained to accept raccoons. She used our animal filter, selecting Small Mammal, which removes from the results all rehabilitators who don’t accept small mammals and also extends our app’s search radius. Again, everyone she called was either full or, despite being able to accept small mammals, was not equipped/trained to accept raccoons.

Diane had pushed our service pretty close to the limit. What she really needed was a list of all raccoon rehabilitators in the State of New York. (For what it’s worth, transferring raccoons across state lines is illegal in most if not all states.)

Diane did the smart thing and contacted us directly. We want the public to contact us if they need us, but only after they exhaust the excellent self-service options we provide.

We produced and provided Diane with a list of rehabbers in New York that may be willing and able to accept baby raccoons.

Diane found one, and these little ones are now in good hands.

At AHNow we’ll be taking a close look at Diane’s experience as we develop our next generation user interface.

One more thing. Diane’s no longer rehabbing. She is terminally ill. Doctors have given her just a year to live.

We’re hoping Diane, like the little ones she saved here, defies the odds. We are so grateful to her and so many others like her who do or have done their best to leave this world better than they found it.

If you care to help cover the costs of transportation ($200), please click here. (Enter “raccoon” or “Diane” in the Donor Note.) Anything we raise above that amount will either will go toward something to thank Diane for all she has done and continues to do for our wild friends or will be donated at Diane’s direction to support wildlife emergency services.

Helping Wildlife During Hurricane Michael and Beyond

With Hurricane Michael hammering the Florida Panhandle and surrounding areas, we’re facing yet another harsh reminder of the fragility of life. We know you join Animal Help Now in our hopes that those in the hurricane’s path can make it to safety and ensure that their dependents do, too.

Sadly, we were reminded just last month that many animals are simply left to die, including not only dogs and cats, and fishes in aquariums, but also and on a much, much larger scale, pigs and chickens and other “food” animals, whose anonymity dooms them.

As to wild animals and wild places, even with their millions of years of evolutionary toughening-up, many can offer no contest to the violence of today’s storms.

Great Blue Heron killed in Hurricane Harvey.
Many shorebirds seeking shelter in local wetlands, like this great blue heron, were devastated by storm surge in Hurricane Harvey (Port Aransas, TX). Many of those who were found alive and rescued were taken to the Texas Sealife Center for medical attention and rehabilitation. Photo: Tim Tristan.

Rescued green sea turtles.
Green sea turtles transported to the Texas Sealife Center in Corpus Christi after Hurricane Harvey. More than 50 sea turtles were housed and cared for at the facility. Photo: Tim Tristan.

The climate is changing, and the impacts are larger and coming at us faster than almost anyone predicted. As the International Panel on Climate Change reported last week, we need to act now, as in now, as in right now. Today.

As to today: at Animal Help Now, we recognize the huge role that human food systems play in climate change. Choosing to eat lower on the food chain is perhaps the single most important thing a person can do each day to positively impact the climate. When we farm to feed humans directly instead of farming to feed cows and pigs and chickens to then feed to humans, we use less fossil fuel and we require less farmland. I can almost hear a rainforest saying, Thank you.

Inundated factory farm.
Millions of chickens and thousands of pigs suffered terribly and died during Hurricane Florence. This is about as close as cameras are allowed. Photo: USA Today.

What’s that, coral reef? Plant-based diets also benefit coral reefs, not only from a global warming perspective, but also by rejecting factory fishing and its concomitant destruction of marine biodiversity.

Discarded fishing line and nets alone are reason enough for Animal Help Now to exist.

Brown pelican.
Through the unparalleled devastation of Hurricane Harvey, some animals remained resilient. Here, a surviving brown pelican. Photo: Tim Tristan.

Bunnies orphaned during Hurricane Harvey.

But the maelstrom of human misbehavior has much larger consequences, as we are now witnessing in the Gulf.

This week Animal Help Now has been busy ensuring our list of wildlife experts in and around the Florida Panhandle is up to date so we can best serve people who encounter wildlife in need as the storm moves through.

Of course, most area wildlife rehabilitators have rightfully left for higher ground, serving as a final jolting reminder that each of us needs to act today to mitigate the severity of storms of the future. If we don’t, we’ll all soon find ourselves in a constant state of retreat.

Use Animal Help Now (website, iPhone app, Android app) to find assistance right now for injured or distressed wildlife.