Becoming a wildlife rehabilitator

Wildlife rehabilitators play an important by preparing sick, injured, and orphaned wildlife for release back into the wild. This can be highly rewording work, but it is also extremely demanding in terms of personal time, energy, and money.

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) recognizes the service licensed wildlife rehabilitators provide, and is committed to ensuring that the animals in their possession receive humane and appropriate care.

Permit requirements

Under state law, private citizens are required to have a permit issued by WDFW to practice wildlife rehabilitation. In virtually all other cases, possessing live wildlife is illegal.

Applicants must meet the following requirements to become a permitted wildlife rehabilitator:

  • Be at least 18 years old.
  • Demonstrate six months, or 1,000 hours, of experience working with a permitted wildlife rehabilitator, including three months during the spring or summer. Education in wildlife rehabilitation may be considered as a substitute for some experience.
  • Submit a Principal Veterinarian Agreement form from a veterinarian who will sponsor you and provide guidance in treating injured, diseased, or abandoned wildlife. Veterinarians may be their own Principle Veterinarian.
  • Complete a Wildlife Rehabilitation Permit Application form.
  • Successfully pass the written wildlife rehabilitation exam with 80% or more correct. You must take the General Exam regardless of the species you will be rehabilitating. If you are interested in rehabilitating raptors, you must take and pass the Raptor Rehabilitation Exam with at least 80 percent correct. Applicants may take the exams again if they fail.
  • Build appropriate housing and care enclosures for your size of facility and pass a facility inspection (See Facility Inspection Form and the NWRA/IWRC Minimum Standards for Wildlife Rehabilitation.) Note that many criteria on the inspection form do not apply to smaller facilities.
  • If you wish to rehabilitate birds you must have a Federal Migratory Bird Permit.

Once rehabilitators obtain a permit, they must comply with all applicable state regulations to retain it. They also must report all changes on their permit (such as the addition of species) and submit annual reports for their permit to remain valid.

Other ongoing requirements

Obtaining a permit is just the first of many challenges involved in becoming a wildlife rehabilitator. The state Wildlife Rehabilitation Manual outlines a number of other factors applicants should consider, ranging from the time commitment required to operate a rehabilitation facility to the need to euthanize some animals.

Education and training

After attaining your permit, it is important that you stay up to date on issues ranging from wildlife diseases to legal changes affecting wildlife rehabilitation. State, national, and international professional wildlife rehabilitation organizations – as well as fellow rehabilitators – provide opportunities for continued education and increased skill.

The National Wildlife Rehabilitators Association (NWRA) and International Wildlife Rehabilitation Council (IWRC) publish newsletters and journals and sponsor conferences every year. Joining these organizations is essential for rehabilitators to stay current in their profession.

Time commitment

Wildlife rehabilitation is both a lifestyle and a 24-hour job. The busiest time is spring and summer when you may be feeding baby birds every 20 minutes, or bottle-feeding infant mammals every couple of hours around the clock. Attending to the needs of animals in your care must be your primary focus of attention.

By accepting a wildlife rehabilitation permit, your name, email, and phone number are made public. One of the most time consuming activities for a wildlife rehabilitator is answering telephone calls. Much of your time will be spent trying to convince people not to interfere with wildlife, or advising them on transport and natural history of the species.

Financial obligations

Wildlife rehabilitation is a volunteer activity that can often cost thousands of dollars per year. WDFW does not compensate wildlife rehabilitators for their services, but does offer grants to help defray certain costs. Common expenditures for rehabilitators include:

  • Constructing caging and enclosures.
  • Equipment to necessary to capture and handle animals.
  • Food and medications.
  • Veterinary advice and treatment services.
  • Continuing education.

Under state law, wildlife rehabilitators cannot charge for their services, but may receive funding through donations. Many rehabilitators establish relationships with stores and hospitals to receive donations of food and equipment that would otherwise be discarded.

Death and euthanasia

Wildlife rehabilitators must remain professional when it comes to emotional involvement with their patients. While your goal is to rehabilitate and release animals that come into your care, you can expect that one-half of admitted animals will die or must be euthanized. As a licensed wildlife rehabilitator, you need the ability to put your personal emotions and beliefs aside and look rationally at the quality of life for the animal.

If you have questions about becoming a permitted Wildlife Rehabilitator, contact WDFW Wildlife Rehabilitation Manager Patricia Thompson by email. Please do not use this address to report sick or injured wildlife.