National Wildlife Day on September 4 brings an awareness of the plight of animals around the globe, whether in your own backyard or one you might see in a zoo or aquarium. Animals may need help for a variety of reasons, some of which are caused by humans and others not.
- Development causes habitat loss and/or fragmentation.
- Pollution may not only affect what animals eat and drink but some trash can trap animals and injur or kill them.
- Injuries by car or other human-caused injuries (which may result in animal orphans)
- Changing climate
- Natural disasters
- Some animals may just not survive their “childhood.” In some cases, the animals give birth to multiple young as the offspring may not be expected to survive. In other cases, it may be something like a bird falling out of a tree in your backyard.
Some of these issues may not just case an animal or two to be affected but entire animal species may be affected, or to become threatened, endangered, or even critically endangered. We certainly don’t want them to become extinct!
From fledgling birds falling from a tree, to breeding programs for endangered animals, there are “animal helpers” all around.
- You might have a wildlife rehabilitator living near you! They are your “go-to people” for helping injured or orphaned animals you may find. They are trained and licensed to care for specific kinds of animals. The goal is to get these wild animals cared for and then released back into their natural environment. Sadly, not all animals can be released and they will then often be found at zoos, aquariums, and nature centers where they are cared for and protected so people can learn about them. You can learn more about these animal helpers by reading Baby Owl’s Rescue, Animal Helpers: Wildlife Rehabilitators and Animal Helpers: Raptor Centers.
- Some animal helpers are very specialized like the folks at Tri-State Bird Rescue and Research who rush to oil spills to clean oil from the animals. You can read all about how they do that in River Rescue.
- Then there are sanctuaries that take exotic pets (like big cats, bears, or even pigs) when the owners realize the animals aren’t safe to keep. These Animal Helpers: Sanctuaries may be affiliated with zoos or other non-profit organizations.
- Some injured wildlife go to “animal hospitals” often affiliated with zoos, aquariums, or other non-profit organizations. The SC Aquarium has a sea turtle hospital that cares for a wide variety of sea turtles (Carolina’s Story: Sea Turtles Get Sick Too!) and places like The Marine Mammal Center specialize in sick, injured or orphaned marine mammals like Honey Girl: The Hawaiian Monk Seal or Astro: The Steller Sea Lion. As explained in the book, Astro refused to return to the wild and now has his “forever home” at the Mystic Aquarium where you can visit him.
- Orphaned animals may also need help. Firefighters at the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska saved The Lucky Litter wolf pups when a wildfire killed their mother. The pups found their forever home at the Minnesota Zoo. Kali (Kali’s Story: An Orphaned Polar Bear) travelled by snow mobile and then by plane to the Alaska Zoo, onto the Buffalo Zoo and again to his forever home at the Saint Louis Zoo. Go see him! One of the most fascinating animal adoption stories is featured in Baby Bear’s Adoption where biologists from the Michigan Department of Natural Resources trick a mother bear into adopting an orphaned cub! It’s nice to know that the little cub stayed wild. You can read this book in English, Spanish, Mandarin Chinese, Arabic, French, and Thai this September at Arbordale’s Free eBook of the Month.
- As mentioned in a previous blog, zoos and aquariums around the world are not just fun places to see animals but are very involved in conservation issues. Many Animal Helpers: Zoos and Animal Helpers: Aquariums participate in breeding programs to help endangered animals avoid extinction. Some of these programs have been highly successful in releasing the offspring into the wild. They educate visitors about animals and any conservation issues that may be affecting the animals and, in some cases, also support conservation projects for those animals in their native homelands. They are stewards of the animals in their care and take great pains to ensure the animals are kept healthy in mind and body. The animals are “enriched” through a variety of ways that you can read about in Primate School. When it is not in an animal’s best interest to remain at a location for some reason, the animal is moved to a better location. For example, elephants are very social animals and need herd mates. When Maggie Alaska’s Last Elephant was left alone after her herd-mate died, the Alaska Zoo sent her to the PAWS elephant sanctuary in California where she was happily accepted into a large herd.
- Similar to or as part of breeding programs, head-starting programs raise some wildlife young until they are better prepared to live on their own in the wild. These animals are carefully raised to not interact with humans so they have a better chance at survival in the wild. While they may be fed, the feeding is done in such a way that they still have to find their own food. After a While Crocodile: Alexa’s Dairy shares how young Costa Rican students head start American crocodiles at their school and Turtles in my Sandbox features a young girl head starting diamondback terrapins.
- Then there are volunteers that walk beaches every morning to look for sea-turtle nests during nesting season. They mark the nests so people don’t walk on them and, if the nest is below the high-tide line, they move the eggs to protect them. They watch the nests carefully and try to be there when the hatchlings make their big crawl to the ocean, keeping people and animals from disturbing them. You can read about that in Turtle Summer: A Journal for my Daughter.
- Sometimes the animal helpers are locations giving endangered animals safe places to live. For example, critically endangered Florida panthers (Felina’s New Home) find safe places to live in the Everglades National Park and the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge.
- Biologists study animals to learn as much as possible. This knowledge helps them (and us) better understand the animals and their needs so that we can all better protect them. Read how The Lizard Lady and the Pooper Snooper (and his scientist trainer) learn about, study, and care for critically endangered animals. A young girl and her biologist father explore the life cycle of salamanders and vernal ponds in Salamander Season. After studying and watching a few salamanders grow, they release them back to the wild.
- Biologists aren’t the only ones who can study and learn about animals. There are several citizen science projects with which children and their families can participate! check out Bat Count and Moonlight Crab Count (horseshoe crabs). You can explore ways to participate in similar projects near you at SciStarter or CitizenScience.gov.
What are some other ways humans help care for wildlife? Feel free to share your story of how you help animals!