Growth of urban wildlife rehabilitation

Photo by Sigrid Warren

Rescuers and rehabilitators provide injured, sick or orphaned wildlife animals with a bit of R&R.

By Harry Kane


Photo by Sigrid Warren
Photo by Sigrid Warren

Wild animals often suffer from the same misfortunes that many humans endure: disease, weather-related events that destroy homes, kidnapping, loss of parents, or accidents that challenge their survival. Individual wildlife rehabilitators take it upon themselves, with little to no external funding, to care for these wounded animals and release them back into the wild.

As cities grow, more food will be available for these species. It’s inevitable that more wildlife animals will be drawn to urban areas. And with the growth in cities and increased urban wildlife, so too will there be a greater need for rehabilitators.

These seminal defenders of urban wildlife work so that the average passerby who stumbles upon these injured animals can rest assured that the wildlife will be well taken care of by professionals.

Click the link for information about wildlife rehabilitators. You can also select a district on the right side of the page to find the list of rehabilitators in that district.

Rehabilitating Small Urban Mammals
Many of the urban wildlife facing rescue and rehabilitation are small mammals. Mammals have a backbone, are warm-blooded, feed their young with milk and have hair.  Of the 5,400 mammal species on our planet, 21 percent are threatened or extinct, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature.  But there are also lots of mammals that are what the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife would consider to be common and abundant, highly adaptable and opportunistic. Raccoons, skunks and squirrels are a few of the animals cared for by rehabilitators on a daily basis.

squirrel 10
Photo by Harry Kane

These rehabilitators help rescue and release the wounded animals back into the wild. Those who do it say it’s a rewarding but little known job. Yet thanks to these wildlife defenders, some mammals who might face decline, continue to thrive and survive, even in urban areas of Massachusetts.

Individual wildlife rehabilitators temporarily care for injured, sick, and orphaned indigenous animals until such time that they are healthy enough to return to the wild. Most rehabilitators will release their animals themselves. Depending on the species, it can be difficult for both the caregiver and the animal to let go of one another. Separation anxiety is common among people who care. But the good rehabilitators work hard to keep the wild animals from becoming dependent on humans, readying them for the wild.

These independent rehabilitators usually work out of their home. Some operate in small offices scattered across the state. Their centers are a labor of love and a place of comfort for the injured, orphaned or needy animals.

The smaller clinics focus on the traditional treat-and-release system while bigger centers conduct more research and look for trends. Large centers like Cape Wildlife Center and Tufts Wildlife Clinic, are monitoring the ecosystem health.Rehabilitators specializing in mammals help several common species such as bats, black bears, beavers, bobcats, cottontails, eastern coyotes, fishers, raccoons, red and grey foxes, moose, skunks, squirrels, woodchucks, and red tailed deer. More information can be found on the website under the Division of Fisheries and Wildlife.

Rehabilitators said they face the most controversy over their care of raccoons (procyon lotor) because of their association with rabies and other diseases. These “masked bandit” night creatures rummage through garbage cans, stealing food. They tend to thrive in cities. 

Photo by Harry Kane

Of all the debilitated raccoons, orphaned raccoons tend to be the most likely candidates for rehabilitation. In most scenarios, raccoon mothers are often killed by humans. Sometimes the babies are rescued and brought into one of the wildlife clinics. They are tested, sometimes x-rayed, kept for a period of time, and are later set free, almost always with a group of other raccoons.

Skunks (Mephitis mephitis) are one of the most prevalent wild animals in all of North America. Like raccoons, they can carry disease and face peril from humans.

Rehabilitators of these non-endangered small mammals are in the business of saving lives, not an entire species.

Populations of common and abundant species (raccoons, skunks, and squirrels) do not benefit from rehabilitation, said wildlife biologist Michael Huguenin, who works for the Division of Fisheries and Wildlife.  “The only potential benefit is to the individual animal itself and the person interested in the animals’ well-being.” Unlike rehabilitators, Huguenin looks at the overall population level and not at the individual animals.

In essence, the raccoons and other small mammals inhabiting urban areas are surviving and thriving, not because of the rehabilitators, but because they can adapt to various environments.

Huguenin explained that “many professionals would likely say that certain populations of these species thrive and even prefer urban and suburban settings.” And while all wildlife populations fluctuate in both size and distribution due to resource availability, weather events, disease, or competition, their presence in urban areas has been relatively common for many years, he said.


About Harry Kane 4 Articles
Harry Kane is a print journalist, photographer, videographer and video editor. Kane worked at a weekly newspaper called The Somerville News for two years while he attended Emerson College. Previously, Kane shot and edited video in LA and NY.