Wildlife rehabilitation is the treatment of a sick, injured or orphaned wild animal until it is healthy and prepared for a successful life when released back into the wild.
In the UK, there are many wildlife rehabilitators running a variety of facilities. They may care for many different species or specialise in certain ones, such as birds of prey or hedgehogs.
The RSPCA and wildlife rehabilitation
We’ve looked after wild animals for a long time, with our inspectors and branches involved in many wildlife rescues. We have four wildlife centres dedicated to wildlife rehabilitation.
If you’d like more information on our rehabilitation work, read our factsheet Back to the wild (PDF 86.7KB).
Why do these animals need treatment?
Lots of wildlife rescues involve animals that have been hurt in an accident, such as being hit by a car. Others may be found trapped in netting, carelessly discarded litter or even chimneys, and may be stressed, injured or hungry.
Sometimes young animals are taken to rehabilitation facilities because concerned people think they are orphans. This is sometimes the case, and these animals rely on their rescuers for survival. On other occasions though the rescue isn't necessary because the parents in some species - like foxes and hares - leave their young alone while they look for food to feed them.
Find out what to do if you think you have found an orphaned wild animal.
What happens to them?
Wild animals are difficult to keep in captivity because they get stressed very easily. So when we take in a wild animal we have to consider whether treating it will do more harm than good. Animals with more serious injuries are put to sleep, because we think it’s unfair to put them through a traumatic experience if their chances of recovery and release are really low. Many others are treated and released, usually back where they came from.
Do you need a licence to rehabilitate animals?
Not under current legislation - although this might change. Secondary legislation may be enacted under the Animal Welfare Act, requiring all sanctuaries and wildlife rehabilitation centres to be licensed. We would support such a move because we've got concerns about the lack of regulation.
Until then though, rehabilitators must still consider the needs of the animal as defined in the Animal Welfare Act – a guide to the Act for rehabilitators is available here (PDF 260KB).
It’s important to note that licences are required for some activities, such as the keeping and release of grey squirrels or certain birds of prey.
British Wildlife Rehabilitation Council (BWRC)
The BWRC exists to encourage rehabilitators to learn from each other. It hosts a yearly conference and produces a newsletter, ‘The Rehabilitator’.
What training is available?
Some colleges offer modules on wildlife rehabilitation as part of animal care courses, based on a curriculum devised by the BWRC.
More intensive courses are available, but not in the UK. The International Wildlife Rehabilitation Council offers courses in wildlife rehabilitation, but only in the US. However rehabilitators from any country can attend.
All wildlife rehabilitators should consider courses on the ecology or behaviour of the species they wish to treat for important background information. This is because wildlife casualties are first and foremost wild animals. They came from the wild and will go back to the wild, so the more people understand about how wild animals behave, where they live and what challenges they face, the better their carers will be able to prepare them for release.