The Georgia Wildlife Rescue Association (GWRA) reports they are receiving from 30 to 50 calls per day about injured and orphaned wildlife on their statewide hotline. Spring and summer are traditionally the busiest time of the year for wildlife rescue calls, but the GWRA says that many wildlife rehabilitators are reporting higher numbers as compared to those at this time in previous years.
The GWRA is a statewide network of trained volunteers who respond to wildlife calls from the general public. They work with their local wildlife rehabilitators to ensure that the injured or orphaned animal gets proper care until it can be released back into the wild. Wildlife rehabilitators, or rehabbers, must be licensed by the Georgia Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and, if the animals are federally protected, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.
GWRA Executive Director Chet Powell said that they are doing their best to keep up, but with more and more wildlife calls coming in and fewer rehabbers to take them all, it is very difficult.
“We recently had a training class for new volunteers that added 154 volunteers to our statewide team, but we still need more,” he said. “Volunteers typically answer calls in their local community, but with a shortage of volunteers, some are also handling multiple calls per day in surrounding counties.”
In response to the crisis, the GWRA has decided to jump-start a program that it had planned to implement next year, a new online course for volunteers. The online course will consist of live sessions augmented with video of veterinarians and licensed wildlife rehabilitators actually performing their life-saving work.
“It’s a collaborative effort between wildlife rehabilitators, veterinarians, the Georgia Department of Natural Resources and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service,” said Powell, adding that trainees will first learn about the laws, rules and other requirements when working with various animal species.
While completing this one course alone will not make the person a licensed wildlife rehabilitator, it will allow them to work with licensed rehabbers in caring and transporting injured and orphaned animals. It will also help the GWRA to determine those individuals are who have an aptitude for this type of work. Some people are content to volunteer in their spare time, but others who wish to obtain their own wildlife rehabilitator’s license will be given opportunities for additional training and anything that can help to speed up that process is important.
“Georgia is losing wildlife rehabilitators at an alarming rate,” said Powell, explaining that most rehabbers operate independently using their own financial resources to cover food, housing, transportation and veterinary care.
“With the economy the way it’s been for the last several years, we’ve lost a huge percentage of rehabilitators because they just can’t afford to do it anymore.” He added, “So not only do we have a shortage of qualified and experienced rehabbers, but we have to place more injured animals with the fewer remaining wildlife rehabbers which increases their workload and also drains what little money they have left.”
In addition to their financial problems, Powell is also concerned about the physical welfare of the remaining rehabilitators as they struggle to take up the slack from the lost positions.
“They are extremely dedicated in saving and caring for these animals. They will continue to work hour after hour for as long as the animals arrive and need care.” he said. “As amazing as these folks are, they are still human and at some point they just literally can’t continue.”
Powell saw the need for a course like this years ago while still a ranger with the Georgia DNR.
“There is no official training process to become a rehabber. As a result, you’ve got some folks out there who have good intentions, but they sometimes do more harm than good,” he said.
The GWRA expects the online course will be a major step in training new volunteers and replacing licensed rehabbers.
“This is something completely new and it will not only help save more of our native wildlife, it will be the first step of a continuing educational process for those who want to eventually become full-fledged wildlife rehabilitators,” Powell said.
For more information, or to make a donation to help wildlife rehabilitators visit the GWRA website at georgiawildliferescue.org or send it to PO Box 7272 Tifton, Georgia, 31794.