Always make sure that an animal is actually in need before intervening; please refer back to the Wildlife 911 section for more details.
If a rescue is needed remember that safety should be a priority both for you and the animal. NEVER put your personal safety at risk to rescue an animal. Always approach wild animals with caution, no matter how lifeless and lethargic they appear. It is not uncommon for a weak animal to get a quick dose of adrenaline when it is afraid, leading to a sudden struggle.
Some gear that is important for an animal rescue might be:
- Leather gloves, non-penetrable if possible.
- A cardboard box with ventilation holes, padded lining like a clean blanket or towel or lots of shredded paper to form a nest. Pet crates are most effective for small mammals (make sure wire front is covered so animals such as squirrels can’t squeeze out). Ice cream pails with ventilated lids can be used for bats or small songbirds.
- Safety goggles (especially important for handling herons, bitterns, grebes, and loons – they will pierce with their beaks in a lightening quick motion). NEVER put your face near a wild animal!
- Hot water bottle to provide warmth for small mammals or baby birds.
- Fishing or butterfly net.
- A blanket or towel to throw over the animal during capture.
Here are some guidelines for capture and transport:
- Have a plan ahead of time.
- Keep people quiet, and pets out of the area.
- Move slowly, gently, and stay calm, especially if the animal is panicked.
- Avoid eye contact (lower eyes), which is threatening to the animal.
- Use heavy gloves, thick clothing, and protective eyewear as needed.
- Guide and lure the animal if possible, rather than chase the animal. Some animals will die from the stress of a chase.
- Cover the animal with a towel or blanket, tucking it under them, keeping paws and claws and wings tucked in. Covering their heads can reduce the visual stimuli and stress.
- Make sure you are not covering the animal’s mouth or nose. Avoid squeezing an animal’s chest because if it cannot move its chest cavity it cannot breath.
- If the animal is an infant, or if it feels cold to the touch, provide heat, (a hot water bottle or soda bottle of warm water wrapped in a towel).
- Do not use your air conditioning in the car or extreme heat in the winter.
- Keep the vehicle very quiet during transport.
- Keep the animal/box out of direct sunlight during transport as this can cause them to overheat.
- Do not attempt to feed or water any animal or bird as this may only make matters worse.
- Take it IMMEDIATELY to a veterinarian or wildlife rehabilitator.
Please call the WRSOS Wildlife Hotline if you have any further questions on safe capture and transport of various animals.
RECOGNIZING CRITICAL PATIENTS DURING TRANSPORTATION
An animal that is in critical condition may show the following signs: open-mouthed breathing (continual gasping for air vs. mouth open in defensive response), closed eyes, extreme lethargy, little resistance or response to handling. These animals require the immediate attention of a veterinarian.
ABOUT CAPTURE MYOPATHY
The immediate reaction that animals have to stress is the “fight or flight” syndrome. Capture myopathy, a disease complex associated with capture or handling of any wild animal, occurs when an animal cannot cool itself; the key feature of capture myopathy is hyperthermia (an increase in body temperature). Stress is the body’s reaction to abnormal states (e.g. infection, extreme temperature, injury, fear) that disturb the normal physiological equilibrium. Capturing and restraining an injured or ill animal is extremely stressful, and the rehabilitator’s primary goal is to reduce stress, by minimizing pain and distress, before it reaches this critical level. The only cure is prevention. Once capture myopathy starts, it cannot be stopped and the animal will die.