CAREERS: Wildlife Rehabilitator

Posted by on Dec 17, 2020 in Careers

Have you ever thought about who helps animals that have been injured in the wild? While a veterinarian would be the right person to call for a sick dog or cat, the best course of action for a wild animal that’s been hurt is to find an animal rehabilitator. If you love helping animals, read on to see if this job might be a good one for you someday.

What is a Wildlife Rehabilitator?

Have you ever known anyone had an injury or procedure that required physical therapy? Wildlife rehabilitators are physical therapists for animals. They examine animals that have been through trauma and provide ongoing care to the ones that need it. Animal rehabilitators also take care of wild animals that have been orphaned. The animals are cleaned, fed, and cared for, and as soon as they are ready, released back into the wild.


A veterinarian cleans a snow leopard's teeth at the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo
Wildlife rehabilitators help prepare animals to return to their natural habitat. Credit: Cleveland Metroparks Zoo/McGraw-Hill Education

Loving animals is a great start, but you need much more than that to become a skilled wildlife rehabilitator. Rehabilitators must have extensive knowledge about all kinds of animals, including everything from what they eat, to how they behave, to what their habitats are like, to how they interact with other animal species. For that reason, many rehabilitation centers recommend that their employees have a college degree (or at least coursework) in biology, zoology, ecology, or veterinary medicine. Often, centers have a veterinarian on-site, and rehabilitators work under that person’s guidance. It is also helpful to gain experience as a volunteer or an intern to learn more about the field. In addition to having knowledge and experience, successful rehabilitators must also be resourceful, hardworking, energetic, trustworthy, and must care deeply for animals and the environment.

Wildlife rehabilitators also need to obtain special permits in order to work with wild animals. Anyone working with migratory birds must have a permit from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Depending on where you live, state laws might require additional permits, with some also requiring a written examination.

Job Outlook

You might think that most wildlife rehabilitator jobs exist in remote areas where there is more wildlife, but the reverse is true. Rehabilitators are more in demand in places with high human populations. That’s because it’s often interaction with the human world that causes the most injuries to animals.

As the human population continues to grow, the need for rehabilitators is on the rise. However, not all rehabilitators do this as a profession. Some of this work is performed by volunteers–done alongside other trained animal specialists. There are some jobs are available through state and local governmental agencies, but it will require investigation to find out which agencies pay for rehabilitation services.

Pros and Cons

Like any job that requires you to witness suffering and death, helping injured animals can be stressful. The animals that can’t survive in the wild are euthanized, which can be traumatic. It is also a very time-consuming job, because injured and/or baby animals require near-constant feeding and care, day and night. There is also always the possibility of physical injury, such as a bite or scratch from an injured animal. Finally, the start-up costs may be daunting, as many rehabilitators must initially purchase their own cages, food, and medicine.

On the other hand, helping animals recover is very rewarding. It can also be satisfying to work closely with nature, and to work with others who share your love of animals.

Dig Deeper To learn more about what permits and licenses are required to become a wildlife rehabilitator where you live, contact your state’s Department of Natural Resources, or go online. What is the process in your state?