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[Taken from Wildlife Rehabilitation Today]

A History Of Wildlife
Conservation & Rehabilitation

by Kenneth B. Haas
Edited by Dan Mackey

  One of the oldest texts mentioning diseases of birds and fish is the Veterinary Papyrus of Kahun, 1900 BCE. The Bible recognizes that humans and animals are affected by the same diseases: “For that which befalleth the sons of man befalleth beasts… so that a man hath no preeminence above the beasts. (Ecclesiastes 3:19).1 The Bible also makes an ecological statement: “Hurt not the earth, neither the sea, nor the trees.” (Revelations 7:3).
  Mohammed said there is no place in heaven for those with a hard heart and The Koran states, “Verily there are rewards for doing good to dumb animals and giving them water to drink.”
  Siddhartha Gautama, the Buddha (563-483 BCE), said, “Harm no living thing.” Recognizing the necessity for wildlife conservation, Mencius (ca 372-289 BCE) said, “If close nets are not allowed to enter the pools and ponds, the fish and turtles will be more than can be consumed.”2
  India offers a most concrete example of wildlife rehabilitation in antiquity. In many ways, King Asoka (274-236 BCE) can be viewed as the “Father of Wildlife Rehabilitation.”3 His empire included two-thirds of the Indian subcontinent as well as Afghanistan. Converted to Buddhism, he erected The Bibles of Granite, which dealt with the rights of all living things. Its first two edicts state: “All life is sacred and there will be no more slaughter of animals for the sacrificial altar or royal table;” and “The well-being of all living things shall be the duty of the individual and of the state.”
  He was the first to proclaim wildlife legislation, first to support animal welfare, first to build wildlife refuges and the first to recognize animal geriatrics. He engaged people to cultivate medicinal herbs, roots and flowers and to attend sick and aged animals. King Asoka recognized the human-animal bond.
  In Greek legend, Artemis, daughter of Zeus and Leto, was the goddess of wildlife. (Under the Romans she was known as Diana.) In the 12th century, Francesco Bernardone became St. Francis of Assisi. He had deep reverence for birds and beasts and is often called the Patron Saint of Animals.
  Except for falcons and their diseases, little more is said of wildlife for centuries.

20th Century Conservation

  Early wildlife conservation concerned specific conditions in individual species. Lead poisoning of waterfowl has been known since 1894.4 In 1914-1915, Alexander Wetmore demonstrated that ducks die after eating lead shot. In 1931, it was found that western duck sickness was caused by the type C toxin of Clostridium botulinus.5
  In the 1930s, the Bureau Of Animal Industry conducted studies on tularemia (rabbit fever), a disease transmitted from rabbits to humans. In the 1950s, Dr. Frank Hayes studied the causes of white-tail deer die-offs (which proved to be hemorrhagic disease) and in 1958, Dr. Lou Locke investigated trichomoniasis (a protozoal disease) in doves.6
  Wildlife conservation in the mid-twentieth century concerned entire ecosystems. Massive environmental deterioration has been recognized since the 1950s and steps taken to attempt to improve environmental quality.
  A series of serendipitous observations in wildlife warned of dangers inherent in the misuse of DDT, organic mercury and PCBs. Wildlife began to be monitored for adverse effects. Various environmental sciences have since emerged.
  The Wildlife Disease Association was founded in 1951. In the 1970s, courses in wildlife medicine began to be offered in veterinary schools and preceptorships offered in wildlife medicine. A gun was developed that could deliver immobilizing and tranquilizing agents to wildlife, anesthesia was refined, and the use of antibiotics and parasiticides was explored. The American Association of Wildlife Veterinarians was founded in 1979. The human-wildlife bond became better appreciated.

Zoonotic Disease Research

  Zoonoses research received a major stimulus when it was found that many species of wildlife are reservoirs of infections for humans and their farm animals and pets. Especially important was the discovery that wildlife carry arboviruses (ar = arthropod, bo = borne.) It was then realized that certain diseases transmitted from wildlife to humans will be difficult or impossible to eradicate.
  Only rabid bats, foxes, skunks and wildlife used as food are known to transmit infections directly to humans. Erysipelothrix insidiosa, Clostridium botulinum type E, and Listeria monocytogenes are found in fish. A tuberculosis-like mycobacterium-causing “swimming pool granuloma” in humans is found in fish tanks and similar mycobacterium is found in toads. Wildlife harbor a large number of pathogens and their role in transmission to humans has gone largely unstudied. The zoonotic role of cold-blooded wildlife is almost completely ignored.
  Salmonellae are found in fish, fogs, lizards, snakes and tortoises. It is estimated that 14% of the salmonellosis in the U.S. is associated with turtles (280,000 human cases a year.) Brucella abortus is found in lizards, snakes, toads and tortoises; mycobacteria in snakes and toads; leptospira in goldfish, lizards, snakes and turtles; Eastern and Western equine encephalomyelitis in alligators, fish, lizards, snakes and turtles.
  Prevention of zoonoses in rehabilitators is a priority.7-10 Many organisms cause “silent disease” in wildlife, but cause overt disease in humans and domestic animals. Wildlife diseases have low priority in federal agencies, and research is underfunded.

Wildlife Legislation

  In 1913, Congress finally passed the Migratory Bird Act. In 1918, the U.S. and Canada signed the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. In 1936, Mexico signed. The first real measure of protection for raptors came in 1940, with passage of the Bald Eagle Act. In 1962, golden eagles were given protection under this law. Birds of prey were totally protected under a 1972 amendment to the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.11
  Comprehensive federal legislation protecting wildlife came into existence with the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) of 1972 and the Endangered Species Act(ESA) of 1973. The MMPA demonstrates that the federal government has interest in a more holistic approach to the conservation of marine mammals and their environment; the ESA is concerned with conservation of all wildlife.
  In 1988, Congress passed the “Mitchell Amendment” to the Fish And Wildlife Conservation Act of 1980, directing the U.S. Secretary of the Interior to (1) monitor and assess population trends of migratory non-game birds, (2) identify effects of human activities on these species, (3) identify migratory species of concern, and (4) identify actions to prevent these species from becoming endangered.
  The Animal Welfare Act mandates that the U.S. Department of Agriculture, through its Animal And Plant Inspection Service (APHIS), safeguard the welfare of animals used in education, exhibition, research and testing, and provides for adequate veterinary care. APHIS is also concerned with wildlife diseases that might be transmitted to livestock.
  America is a signatory of over 70 international treaties concerning wildlife. One of the most important is The Convention On The International Trade In Endangered Species Of Wild Fauna And Flora (CITES), in which the U.S. joins more than 120 countries in regulating commercial trade in endangered species.
  Rehabilitation is under close scrutiny by animal rights groups, animal welfare groups, biologists, ecologists, government agencies, veterinarians and rehabilitators themselves. Local, state and federal laws demand rehabilitation for certain species. Rehabilitators are regulated by federal, state and municipal agencies.

Organized Rehabilitation

  In the beginning, rehabilitation was conducted in homes by compassionate but often untrained individuals. Early rehabilitation was also carried out by some institutions. Trailside Museum in River Forest, IL has rehabilitated wildlife since 1939.12
  Beginning in the 1960s and 1970s, environmental education centers, junior museums and nature centers began rehabilitation relying largely on private support and volunteers. As they became more organized, they involved themselves in wildlife behavior, handling, management, nutrition and restraint techniques. The Lindsay Museum and Wildlife Hospital in Walnut Creek, CA has cared for injured and orphaned wild animals since 1968.13 The Kalamazoo Nature Center Wild Animal Care and Rehabilitation Program has been conducting wildlife rehabilitation since 1971.14
  Although many wildlife rehabilitation centers had been funded and founded prior to the marine oil spills of the early 1970s, these catastrophes raised industrial and government concern and brought public visibility to rehabilitation. More rehabilitative facilities were built and paid positions eventually evolved.
  As in the past, funding continues to come largely from private sources, with minimum government support. This will probably continue.
  In addition to caring for the medical needs of wildlife, structured rehabilitation offers the important function of educating the community on wildlife and the environment.
  In 1972, a group of California rehabilitators formed the Wildlife Rehabilitation Council. In 1986, they became the International Wildlife Rehabilitation Council (IWRC).15

They are primarily providers of wildlife rehabilitation education in the U.S. and Canada, promoting networking and education through annual conferences, certified skills seminars, publications and an information hotline. They publish annual symposium proceedings, issue the quarterly Journal Of Wildlife Rehabilitation, a newsletter, Newsline and a membership directory as well as other rehabilitation literature. When the National Wildlife Rehabilitators Association (NWRA) was founded in 1982, the two organizations developed the NWRA/IWRC Wildlife Rehabilitation Minimum Standards & Accreditation Program detailing facility operation and wildlife care and housing.16 IWRC has 1700 members, of which approximately 10% are international. Since 1982, the NWRA has been central in providing information to rehabilitators and in establishing standards of wildlife care. The NWRA states that wildlife rehabilitation “has come a long way in a short time,” that rehabilitation is “treatment and temporary care of injured, diseased and displaced indigenous wildlife and the subsequent return of healthy animals to appropriate habitats in the wild,” rather than simply “trying to help.”17 NWRA provides referrals to rehabilitators, has a network for information exchange, promotes professionalism and encourages cooperation within environmental groups, governmental agencies, and rehabilitation and wildlife communities. They offer grants for studies in behavior, nutrition, toxicology, and wildlife medicine, host a yearly symposium where new information and treatments are presented and discussed. They publish an annual proceedings, Wildlife Rehabilitation (formerly edited by Paul Beaver, Ph.D., Dan Mackey, and currently Dr. Daniel R. Ludwig), a newsletter: the NWRA Quarterly, NWRA Quick Reference book, NWRA Principles Of Wildlife Rehabilitation book and a membership directory. Membership is open to everyone, including biologists, educators, environmentalists, humane society members, veterinarians and zoo personnel. They developed A Wildlife Rehabilitator’s Code Of Ethics in cooperation with IWRC.18 The founding board of directors of NWRA was composed of 18 people from 11 states: Patricia Adams, Harold F. Albers, DVM, Paul Beaver, Ph.D., Walter C. Crawford, Jr., Gary E. Duke, Ph.D., Richard H. Evans, DVM, James M. Fitzpatrick, Jane Gulley, Ralph T. Heath, Jr., Betsy Jones, Sally Joosten, Mark Lerman, DVM, Jane Lyons, Debbie Marcum, Deborah Mumford, Paul A. Nash, III, Carol Odell and Elaine Thrune.19

To be continued. Please see the Fall 1998 issue for the conclusion of “A History Of Wildlife Conservation & Rehabilitation.”


1. Haas, K. B., Davidson, J. L. The Story Of Veterinary Medicine, The Science Counselor, 19:129-130, 149. 1956.
2. Wilson, E. The Wisdom Of Confucius, Books Inc., New York. 1900.
3. Haas, K. B., The Father Of Wildlife Rehabilitation. Wildlife Rehabilitation Today, Spring Edition, 1992, p. 52.
4. Schwabe, C. W., Veterinary Medicine And Human Health, (ed. 2). The Williams & Wilkins Company, Baltimore. 1969. p. 523.
5. Dunlop, R. H., Williams, D. J., Veterinary Medicine. An Illustrated History, Mosby, St. Louis. 1996. p. 588.
6. Proceedings Of The Wildlife Health Workshop, Fort Collins, CO. 1991. p. 10.
7. Haas, K. B., Preventing Zoonotic Infections, Wildlife Rehabilitation Today, Winter Edition, 1993, p. 37.
8. Haas, K. B., Preventing Zoonotic Infections, Wildlife Rehabilitation Today, Summer Edition, 1993, p. 7.
9. Paul-Murphy, J., Zoonoses From Wild Birds And Mammals In Rehabilitation Centers, The North American Veterinary Conference Veterinary Proceedings, Orlando, Florida. 1994.
10. Evans, R. H., Reduce Your Reptile Infection Risk, Wildlife Rehabilitation Today, Fall Edition, 1994, pp. 39-40.
11. Crawford, W. C., Jr. Human Populations: Their Impact On Raptor Mortality, unpublished manuscript. 1997.
12. Moe V. Animal Inn, Houghtin Mifflin Company, Boston. 1946.
13. Bishop, W. The Lindsay Museum’s New Wildlife Hospital, Wildlife Rehabilitation Today, Fall Edition, pp. 4-7. 1993.
14. Evans, M. (ed.), Wild Animal Care And Rehabilitation Manual. Beach Leaf Press, Kalamazoo, MI. 1991.
15. International Wildlife Rehabilitation Council brochure, courtesy Ms. Louise A. Shimmel. 1997.
16. International Wildlife Rehabilitation Council/National Wildlife Rehabilitators Association, Wildlife Rehabilitation Minimum Standards & Accreditation Program, p. 1.
17. Fact Sheet, National Wildlife Rehabilitators Association, courtesy Ms. Elaine M. Thrune. 1997.
18. Thrune, E. M. Wildlife Rehabilitation: A History And Perspective. 1995.
19. National Wildlife Rehabilitators Association. Founding Board Of Directors, 1982. Courtesy Elaine M. Thrune.