Wildlife Search and Rescue

Between the 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico and the more recent spill off the coast of Brazil, we all have environmental disasters on the mind. Some of the most compelling images from that first spill were animals affected by the resulting pollution.

Rebecca Dmytryk has been a wildlife rescue worker for over 30 years. She was on the front lines during the Gulf Oil Spill, among other recovery missions, and she has agreed to talk with us more about caring for animals in situations like these. Her new book, Wildlife Search and Rescue: A Guide for First Responders, aims to prepare rescue workers to deal with wildlife emergencies.

  • What was it like to be right in the middle of things as the Gulf Oil Spill was happening?

As with any major environmental disaster it was extremely sad to witness the catastrophe firsthand. But, being on the frontlines also meant we had the opportunity to save lives. I think that’s a big part of what kept us going emotionally – knowing that we were making a difference in the lives of many individual animals that would have otherwise perished.

  • Did many of the responders know how to help the animals they found?

I will speak to what I witnessed in the field when I was assigned to search and rescue operations in Louisiana. Overall, very few of the responders had sufficient training and skills to successfully locate and capture oiled birds. What was more frustrating was that these people were often in charge of our assignments. It’s not rocket science, but one must have a certain level of understanding and knowledge about the animals they’re dealing with to do the most good and to keep from causing greater harm. This is critical, and something my book addresses.

  • What were some other rescue efforts you were involved in, or what are some other situations in which wildlife rehabilitators need to play a key part?

In 2009, thousands of seabirds began washing ashore off the coast of Oregon, cold and wet from contact with a harmful algal bloom. Their numbers quickly overwhelmed a nearby wildlife rehabilitation center. The only facility that could take on a huge number of aquatic birds was International Bird Rescue, some 700 miles away. I remember scrambling to piece together the long-distance operation, knowing that every minute counted. We did pretty well. We transported 150 birds in a specially outfitted moving van, and we escorted another batch of about 400 birds on a U. S. Coast Guard C-130. The rehabilitators on both the sending and receiving ends were key. They made sure each bird was hydrated prior to the long journey, and on arrival, rehabilitators gave each bird individual care.

  • Why do we need a book like Wildlife Search and Rescue?

Well, I like to think this book has incredible potential. I believe, by improving the skills of responders, it will increase the number of animals that make it from the field and into the hands of rehabilitators. I also believe it could be a catalyst for great change, improving how wildlife accident victims are responded to. It is time for us to have standards for rescue operations, similar for the ones we have for wildlife rehabilitation practices. I hope the book inspires such change for the better.

  • Who should read this book? Is it just for people who work with wildlife on a daily basis?

This book is for anyone who wants to know what to do when they encounter an injured or orphaned wild animal. It presents the fundamental principles of wildlife search and rescue operations and explores the three chief components of a rescue – Human Safety, the Welfare of the Animal, and the Potential for Success. The book also details a wide-variety of successful capture techniques. I would recommend the book to everyone – from homemakers, who might occasionally find an injured bird in the yard, to veteran animal control officers, or game wardens, and to wildlife rehabilitators who want to expand their services.

  • Can you offer us some quick tips – maybe the first 3 steps to do if we ever encounter injured wildlife?

Thanks, yes. First and foremost, you must understand that a wild animal will perceive you as a predator and it will consider your approach and any handling as a threat to its life. When you encounter an injured or ill wild animal, consider the safety of yourself and others first and second. Thirdly, consider your abilities. Do you have the skills, training, supplies, and equipment to help the animal without causing it greater harm or jeopardizing yourself or others in the process?

  • And one last question, just to sate our own curiosity – what is the strangest/most unique animal you’ve ever helped to rescue?

Well, it would probably be the arrow-skewered turkey, Pinky. These types of rescues, where birds have projectiles lodged in them, yet they are still able to fly, have got to be the trickiest. Then there was a pelican entangled in fishing line and stuck to the sea floor. To most people, a pelican floating about 50 yards offshore is a normal sight, so the poor bird went unnoticed for at least a day, maybe two, until we happened by and saw that something was ‘just not right’.

Find out more about Wildlife Search and Rescue on wiley.com or visit Rebecca’s blog WildRescue.

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