Saving distressed, injured or orphaned animals and birds by starting a wildlife rehabilitation center is a noble endeavor. Opening a center requires solid experience as a rehabilitator and business skills, including the ability to manage the facility on a daily basis. You also must have the funds necessary to buy the equipment and supplies required to help wildlife get a second chance at living in the wild.
Most states do not allow wildlife rehabilitation centers to charge for their services. That means you must pay for all expenses, including renting space, constructing enclosures and buying equipment, medications and appropriate food for the animals you rehabilitate. While you can request donations of food and money or pay expenses on your own, people may be more willing to make a donation if your center becomes an IRS 501(c) 3 non-profit organization so all gifts are tax-deductible.
You must complete an application indicating your experience and education to obtain a state permit as a rehabilitator. Be prepared to list the species -- such as raptors, bear cubs or rabbits and squirrels -- with which you have worked. You must also show proof of sponsorship from a veterinarian who will act as a consultant for the injured wildlife your facility receives. In many states, including Washington and New York, you must also pass a wildlife rehabilitation exam. If you plan to work with migratory birds, a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Migratory Bird Permit is required.
In most states, facilities must pass an inspection before you can open. To pass, you need pens and cages with adequate room to house the various species you plan to help. You also need temporary housing for creatures you can’t help and need to transfer to another facility. An area for providing medical treatment and meeting with your veterinarian is necessary. You also need space -- both refrigerated and on shelves -- to store food, bedding materials, formula for baby animals, medicine and medical supplies. Plans for disposing of waste and for providing extra ventilation on hot days are also required.
Recording the species you allow into your facility is required in most states. The location in which the wildlife was found as well as a description of the problem is also required, meaning you need time and space to interview each person who brings in wildlife. You also must complete daily care forms and keep records when you notify U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services of illegal activities that have harmed a creature. The state agency with oversight of wildlife rehabilitation activities establishes the deadlines for filing reports. In most states they are due in December or January.
Staff or volunteers to sanitize rooms, equipment and cages are necessary. During the busy spring and early summer season -- when people bring more orphaned babies to rehabilitators -- you’ll need help feeding them multiples times per day. These positions are labor-intensive and do not require strong rehabilitator skills, so you may use volunteers without experience or a license, but you must closely supervise their activities. Look for people who are interested in obtaining their own wildlife rehabilitation license or have an education in wildlife biology or wildlife rehabilitation.