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Things You Need to Know

Gaining Experience in Wildlife Rehabilitation Technique

Wildlife Rehabilitation uses a complex combination of techniques from many different disciplines. Knowledge of what works best for wildlife and the rehabilitation of wild animals is gained through experience and by networking with other wildlife rehabilitators. Below are ideas to help you plan a strategy for learning these techniques.

  • Volunteer at an established facility or with an individual rehabilitator. When you become a member of the National Wildlife Rehabilitators Association, you receive the Membership Directory listing NWRA members from around the world. Many of the facilities listed seek volunteers or interns to work at the centers. This is an excellent learning experience before beginning on your own. You also can find a licensed rehabilitator in your area by contacting the agency in your state that deals with wildlife management, such as Fish & Wildlife or Dept. of Natural Resources, and asking for names of wildlife rehabilitation permit holders near you.
  • Read and ask questions. There are many good books available about wildlife rehabilitation. Use caution reading books published more than ten years ago, since new techniques are always being developed. For example, older books may have poor diet and handling information. The National Wildlife Rehabilitators Association strives to provide the most correct and up-to-date information available in association publications. Please contact the Central Office for additional information about our publications or visit NWRA Publications on this site.
  • Attend training sessions, conferences, and symposia. The National Wildlife Rehabilitators Association sponsors an annual world-class Symposium, usually in March. Many state organizations hold conferences or workshops. If you volunteer with an established rehabilitator or center, ask about training opportunities and programs.

Do I Need a Permit?

Permits to possess wild animals for rehabilitation usually are required from the state agency that regulates and deals with wild animal management. If you are rehabilitating birds, a permit from the United States Fish & Wildlife Service is required under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and other federal regulations. Most wild animals are protected by governmental regulations. Almost all birds and mammals, endangered and threatened species, and even reptiles, amphibians, fish and insects usually are protected bylaws prohibiting possession without a permit.

It is illegal to have any protected animal in your possession unless you have the proper permits. Since each state has its own permit requirements, you must contact agency personnel and learn what your state requires. Click here for a list of state agency contact information.

When applying for permits and subsequently filing required annual reports, give honest and complete information. Permits are a privilege, like a driver’s license. DO NOT ABUSE THIS PRIVILEGE. For a misdemeanor violation, consequences can include loss of permit(s), citation, and/or jail. Violators give wildlife rehabilitation a bad reputation and harm the future of wildlife rehabilitation.

Experience, training, and proper facilities are all requirements to receive a permit in most instances. Reading, researching, learning, and observing on your own and/or finding a permitted rehabilitator to teach you is recommended. A number of states require apprenticeships and passing a written examination, as well as an inspection of the wildlife facility and proof of a cooperating veterinarian, before a permit is issued.

Personal Considerations

As you begin treating distressed wild animals and interacting with people that find them, remember YOU AND YOUR FAMILY COME FIRST. Be prepared to spend less time with your family or friends, experience animal suffering and death, and the danger associated with handling wild animals. Although your family may be involved or supportive, this stress can be overwhelming at times.

Insurance is a necessity and available through NWRA.  If people are bringing wild animals to you, be sure you have adequate liability insurance. Your homeowner’s policy probably does not cover rehabilitation activities. If you have others assisting you, regardless of their relationship, be sure you are covered and they are covered. Check your health and hospitalization policy, too.

Commitment - Time and Money

Rehabilitation can be expensive. Purchasing books, joining organizations. and attending training sessions costs money. Once into actual animal care, it is more expensive. Most rehabilitators pay for food, cages, medicines, transportation, and other things from their own pockets unless they can solicit donations. It also takes a lot of time to rehabilitate correctly! For example, baby birds must be fed every 15-30 minutes during daylight hours, 14 hours a day!

Most individuals that remain wildlife rehabilitators over time form a nonprofit corporation. A nonprofit structure makes it easier to collect donations. If you decide to seek funding beyond personal and small individual donations, contact an attorney or some other expert in nonprofit law. Nonprofit status involves complicated paperwork and accounting. Help from a lawyer and accountant well versed in nonprofit organizations is essential. You may need to incorporate within your state, have a board of directors and bylaws, then seek nonprofit tax exempt status from the Internal Revenue Service. Often annual reports must be filed with the Secretary of State and Attorney General, as well as with the Internal Revenue Service.


Wildlife Rehabilitation is complex, but you should not be afraid of becoming involved. Volunteering is the best first step into wildlife rehabilitation. Read Principles of Wildlife Rehabilitation and become familiar with the Minimum Standards for Wildlife Rehabilitation. These National Wildlife Rehabilitators Association publications contain good, basic information. Contact the NWRA Central Office for information about ordering these publications or visit the Marketplace.

To keep from becoming overwhelmed, be selective about your rehabilitation activities as you start out in in this career. Select one species of animal so you can become proficient in care and rehabilitation in the beginning. Once you become confident, and you're ready to expand, select another species.

Join the National Wildlife Rehabilitators Association to network with other rehabilitators and obtain information and support. You have access to the best published materials and referrals in the field of wildlife rehabilitation.

Talk to rehabilitators with permits. Find out what really is involved, consider your time and other resources available, and think carefully before you make this important commitment. Good luck in your decision. If the National Wildlife Rehabilitators Association can be of any further assistance to you, please contact us

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