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History of NWRA


The National Wildlife Rehabilitators Association (NWRA) was created to fill a need. Wildlife rehabilitators wanted a national organization to gather and disseminate information and to establish standards for the care of wild animals.

The NWRA was born in 1982 at the first National Wildlife Rehabilitation Symposium in Naperville, Illinois. The staff and friends of Willowbrook Wildlife Haven hosted 262 people from 22 states. Participants represented universities, zoos, veterinary hospitals, nature centers, Audubon societies, humane societies, state and federal wildlife agencies, and concerned individuals This symposium was a tremendous success, not only because of the unexpectedly high attendance, but also because of the enthusiasm to become organized. The rich diversity of expertise and interest represented at the symposium provided a firm foundation for a national organization designed to meet the needs of wildlife rehabilitators. Nearly 30 interested participants met to lay the groundwork for the NWRA. Eighteen of them formed a volunteer board of directors. Key elements for this new organization were:

  • Nonprofit status for education and information exchange
  • Nonprofit status for education and information exchange
  • All–volunteer board of directors elected by members
  • Working committees comprised of members
  • Annual national conference with papers published
  • Active network of members to help each other
  • Member newsletter with useful rehabilitation information
  • Development of professional standards for this new field
  • Publications and training manuals
  • Cooperation with professionals in other fields, and with state, provincial, and federal agencies, as well as other environmental organizations


Volunteer board members and committee workers, along with staff, continue to build upon this foundation and have developed the member benefits and services that NWRA offers today:

  • The NWRA is recognized by the US Internal Revenue Service as a 501(c)(3) tax exempt organization, thus donations to NWRA are tax deductible as provided by law.
  • Board members represent member interests by geographic area, by level of rehabilitation involvement, and by a diversity of backgrounds in rehabilitation, medicine, education, administration, and related fields.
  • Interested members participate on committees involving wildlife care, post–release studies, education, computer and information management, symposium planning, membership recruitment, rehabilitation standards, publications, public relations, and others.
  • The four–day NWRA Symposium is the largest North American wildlife rehabilitation symposium, attracting 450 to 550 people representing most states and provinces. Recognized and respected speakers present current information and new findings through presentations, hands-on skills workshops, interactive seminars, and discussion groups.
  • The NWRA Membership Directory, updated annually, lists hundreds of members. Member and Specialty Indexes encourage active networking among members to improve wildlife care.

  • In 2001, the NWRA Quarterly Journal evolved into two publications: The Wildlife Rehabilitator is a newsletter that details association matters and current information.The Wildlife Rehabilitation Bulletin is a journal that reaches members with forty–eight or more pages of peer–reviewed articles, techniques, book reviews, and announcements.

  • The Minimum Standards for Wildlife Rehabilitation provides minimum indoor and outdoor housing criteria for many species, as well as sections on cage furnishings, euthanasia, medical care, recording and reporting information, public health responsibilities, release considerations, disease prevention and control, and a Code of Ethics for Wildlife Rehabilitators. This document is designed to assist rehabilitators in providing effective care.

  • NWRA sells a variety of books and reprinted articles that contain the most current information in the field.

    • Principles of Wildlife Rehabilitation: The Essential Guide for Novice and Experienced Rehabilitators is the most comprehensive reference work in the field and is used as the textbook for college and rehabilitation training classes.
    • Selected papers from each symposium have been published in the Wildlife Rehabilitation series.
    • The Veterinary Committee Topics in Wildlife Medicine (four volumes) meets the need for practical and tested medical information.
    • Two books designed to assist beginning and experienced educators are Wildlife in Education: A Guide for the Care and Use of Program Animals to correctly and effectively use wild animals in educational programs plus provide ongoing captive wildlife care; and, Introduction to Wildlife Education Programming: Tips & Techniques for Better Presentations to help create and present dynamic and effective wildlife educational programs.
The website Opportunities in Wildlife Rehabilitation section lists dozens of internship and volunteer positions across the continent for members to gain valuable experience.

The NWRA is in contact with rehabilitation organizations, state, provincial, and federal permitting agencies, the federal bird banding lab, the national wildlife health lab, plus other agencies and organizations as issues arise.

Additional NWRA programs and services include:

  • Access to liability and other insurance coverage specifically for rehabilitators
  • Achievement awards to recognize outstanding contributors to the field
  • Grants to support studies and research
  • Scholarships to attend the annual symposium and to purchase reference materials
  • Liaison with veterinary and veterinary technology students
  • Central Office with full–time office manager and several part–time staff to respond to member needs and a growing number of requests from outside the membership
  • NWRA Publications Manager to ensure that member periodicals meet NWRA quality and publication standards
  • Opportunities for members to become involved in NWRA at many different levels through working on active committees and projects, and seeking election to the Board of Directors
  • Informative website with current topics in wildlife rehabilitation, also providing information about wildlife rehabilitation to the general public
  • Wildlife Medicine Course to expand the curriculum for veterinary students, conducted at leading universities several times annually


The NWRA remains healthy and growing because of the combined efforts of hard–working staff and committee volunteers, a Board of Directors committed to the mission and philosophies of the organization, and members and donors who provide financial support. The NWRA continues to meet the needs of wildlife rehabilitators for training, information, and networking, as well as representing members and the profession to state, provincial, and federal agencies, and other related organizations.

The NWRA's strength lies in the rich diversity of its membership, in the willingness of members to continue to learn and share, in the commitment of members to provide high quality care for wildlife, and in the dedication of many to build respect and credibility for the profession. The NWRA continues to serve wildlife rehabilitators and their profession as long as there is a need.

History of NWRA, written by Elaine Thrune, past president
© 2003 National Wildlife Rehabilitators Association, updated 2008