UBC Reports | Vol. 48 | No. 10 | Aug.
1 , 2002
Helping Those Who Help Wildlife
Ag Sci student survey set for fall release.
By Michelle Cook
The attempt to re-unite an orphaned killer whale with its family
pod off Vancouver Island earlier this summer caused a big splash
in the media, but the baby Orca is only one of an estimated 20,000
injured or orphaned animals that will be rescued in British Columbia
this year. Most are taken in by wildlife rehabilitators who treat
them and then release them, often with little fanfare and a lot
less funding than the US$500,000 it cost for the Orca family reunion.
Sara Dubois wants to change that.
The Agricultural Sciences graduate student hopes to draw attention
to the valuable but largely overlooked services provided by B.C.'s
wildlife rehabilitators by conducting the first-ever academic survey
of their work.
"Generally, these are very capable, skilled people and they
play a valuable role in wildlife management in non-traditional ways,"
Dubois says. "But their work is very isolated. They have few
resources and few opportunities to share information with each other,
and they need more support in order to do their jobs better."
Dubois' goal is to produce a province-wide picture of current practices
for rehabilitators to use to standardize their work and create more
awareness about what they do. With the government increasingly taking
a hands-off approach to wildlife distress calls, Dubois says her
survey is a timely one.
There are 30-40 individuals and non-profit centres rehabilitating
wildlife in the province. Although these caregivers are licensed
annually by the provincial government, and by the federal government
if they treat migratory birds, they don't receive any government
funding, operating largely on grants, donations or voluntarily.
They spend their days examining, feeding, cleaning and medicating
their patients, consulting with veterinarians and wildlife control
officers, answering public inquiries and filling out reports on
every animal they treat.
Now in her second year of Animal Welfare studies, Dubois, 25, saw
a need for more academic study on the management and coordination
of rehabilitation efforts after attending a meeting of the Wildlife
Rehabilitators Network of B.C. in 1999.
For her survey, Dubois collected 30,000 rehab records and conducted
40 interviews, mostly with rehabilitators, to identify their major
concerns. Many told her that they want to be considered professionals,
but because there is little formal training or certification for
the job, they often aren't.
Dubois' other major finding is that, although rehabilitators submit
records for each animal treated, data collection techniques aren't
formalized and the information isn't pooled to provide province-wide
data on the number of animals brought in and the causes of injury,
poisoning or disease that can yield valuable clues to problems in
Dubois plans to present her research to rehabilitators this fall,
and the community is eagerly awaiting her findings, says Elizabeth
Thunstrom, president of the Wildlife Rehabilitators Network of B.C.
"This is a fairly new profession that's only come into its
own in the last 20 years, but there still is a public perception
that we are bunny huggers, and many don't see what we do as valid,"
Thunstrom says. "Sara's study will give us a boost by showing
us how we can measure this as a profession and standardize it, formulate
policies and set up public education programs. She's helping to
give us credibility academically and publicly."