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July 10, 2014

Georgia Wildlife Rescue Association reports busy ‘baby season,’ need for volunteers

In an effort to educate the public about what to do when finding a wild animal that may be injured or orphaned, the Georgia Wildlife Rescue Association (GWRA) has released information about the numbers and types of calls it has received on its statewide Wildlife Hotline.

Barely two months old, the toll-free number (844-WLD-LIFE) has had even more of an impact than expected. Calls average about 25 per day, but the organization reports it has received as many as 50 on some days.

GWRA Director Chet Powell says that besides helping people find where to get help for wild animals, the best thing about the hotline is that it has actually prevented animals from being picked up unnecessarily.

“People obviously mean well when they see a baby animal all alone, but we tend to forget that it’s still a wild animal and not a human baby,” said Powell. He added that before the hotline was implemented on May 1, the GWRA had estimated that half of the calls to it would be “false rescues” where people had removed suspected injured or orphaned animals that were actually never in any danger at all. That estimate turned out to be low.

By asking people to call the hotline before picking up an animal, the GWRA is able to help educate the caller and the end result is usually leaving or returning the animal to where it was found.

“We were surprised to find that out of every five calls to the hotline, four resulted in the animal either being left where it was found or it was put back,” Powell said. He expects that ratio to remain fairly consistent.

The most frequent calls in May and June involved baby animals, especially deer, birds and rabbits. Powell gave an example: “A person is walking on a trail or even in their neighborhood and sees a fawn, a baby deer, all alone and immediately assumes that it’s an orphan and picks it up. That’s not a rescue,” says Powell, “that’s a kidnapping. Deer leave their young alone for long periods during the day. It’s just as normal and safe for them as a human baby is in a crib.”

This month the GWRA expects the calls to shift more toward fledgling birds, baby birds that are just learning to fly, where people see them on the ground and incorrectly assume they are injured or orphaned. Powell understands the human impulse to rescue, but still finds it frustrating.

“If you must compare baby birds to kids, then use this analogy: It’s like taking the training wheels off of your child’s bicycle and letting him or her learn how to ride it,” he explained. “There’s going to be some bumps and bruises, but it’s a normal, healthy process where mom and dad are watching from nearby in case they are needed.”

There’s another reason the GWRA wants to prevent animals from being picked up unnecessarily. Injured and orphaned animals are taken to wildlife rehabilitators who are licensed by the Georgia Department of Natural Resources and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The number of licensed rehabbers in Georgia has declined in recent years and this has created a burden on the remaining rehabbers as they take in more and more animals. Most wildlife rehabilitators operate using their own funds with little or no financial assistance and many rehabbers report they are full to capacity.

Another GWRA effort involves training people who are interested in volunteering with the organization in their spare time as well as more specialized training for those who want to eventually become fully licensed wildlife rehabilitators themselves. As part of that program, the GWRA is offering a new online training program.

The GWRA is hoping to double or possibly even triple its statewide network of trained volunteers that respond to emergency wildlife calls throughout the state. The first session, “Introduction to Wildlife Rescue,” is mandatory for all GWRA volunteers. The course will start on Thursday, July 17, at 7:30 p.m. Subsequent sessions will be offered periodically and each will focus on a particular animal group and/or rescue topic.

After completing the course, volunteers will be added to an on-call list to act as “first responders” to wildlife emergency calls. Those wishing to obtain their own wildlife rehabilitator license will have the opportunity to get advanced training.

Powell emphasized that taking this course alone will not make one licensed. People will still have to take and pass the state test to be licensed.

The fee for the class is $20 for GWRA members and $40 for non-members. There is additional information on the Georgia Wildlife Rescue Association’s Facebook page. For more information or to register for the class, visit georgiawildliferescue.org.

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