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The public behaving badly

Rehabbers are dedicated volunteers who care for our injured and orphaned wildlife and provide an excellent service to the community and our wildlife agencies, like DOC, across New Zealand. In most cases, these rehabbers are self-funded and rely on donations and the support of other volunteers who give their time to help. It is a real sacrifice and a labour of love!

It is therefore surprising and disappointing to hear of the abuse, both in-person but more likely on social media, that is too often directed at these selfless members of our community by an element of the public.

The situations that arise to unleash this anger on rehabbers are often around euthanasia when birds brought to a rehabber are too compromised to rehabilitate and release. In these cases, it is not uncommon to hear the cry that "everything deserves a chance - you have to look after it". In other cases, rehabbers who euthanise a bird that could not be saved get abused or are on the receiving end of posts on Facebook saying, "don't take a bird there because they will just euthanise it!"

Rehabbers do not like having to euthanise a bird, but ultimately they have to make the hard call as to whether the bird will be able to lead a normal life in the wild and how much pain the bird is in as a result of the injuries sustained. It is not about our feelings as rehabilitators – it is all about the bird and what is best for it in terms of short-term trauma and pain and the long-term chance of a normal life. Putting a bird through weeks of rehabilitation with a low chance of success and subjecting it to the pain and stress of captivity and constant handling is cruel and not in the bird's best interests. Not to mention the cost of time, food and treatment that the rehabber can hardly afford in a busy centre with limited resources. Too many patients and too few resources just mean a poorer standard of care and risk of greater suffering for the patients.

Part of the International Wildlife Rehabilitation Council (IWRC) code of ethics for Rehabbers has the following two points on the topic of wildlife care:

  • A wildlife rehabilitator should place optimum animal care above personal gain.

  • A wildlife rehabilitator should strive to provide professional and human care in all phases of wildlife rehabilitation, respecting the wilderness and maintaining the dignity of each animal in life and death. Releasable animals should be maintained in a wild condition and released as soon as appropriate. Non-releasable animals, which are inappropriate for education, foster-parenting, or captive breeding, have a right to euthanasia.

All rehabbers would love to save every bird that comes into care, but the reality is that a 50% success rate is probably a great outcome. The rehabber will only euthanise a bird if it has no chance of a humane rehab process and a long-term positive prognosis to return to the wild. So we all need to support our rehabbers in their work and respect that they will make the best decision for the bird in care, and we need to put our personal views aside and do what is best for the patient.

If anyone has concerns over the process or practice at a wildlife rescue facility, contact WReNNZ or DOC rather than take to social media.

This article was written by

Brian Robertson

WReNNZ Chairperson


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