. There is a certain paradox in why people volunteer in a wildlife rescue center. If you ask the volunteers, most of them will answer that they are volunteering there because “they love animals”. At the core, there is this romantic image of interacting with injured animals, giving them love and comfort. While these feelings are admirable, they might do more harm than good to the animal in the long term. So, here is what you need to know before deciding if volunteering in a wildlife rescue center is for you
1. The ultimate goal of wildlife rescue centers is to return the animals to nature
For most rescue centers and definitively for the one in which we are volunteering now, the ultimate goal is to recover and release the animal in the wild, where they belong.
To do so, and to increase their chances to survive in the wild, they need to fear humans or at least, not to consider them as friends. We, and our artifacts, are the number one reason why they ended up in a rescue center in the first place. Our electric lines, our cars, our unleashed dogs…Many humans, unfortunately, are not so kind to wild animals and proximity with human settlements is generally dangerous – electrocution, traffic accidents, dog attacks or even hunting.
2. Wild animals should not get used to human contact. They are not pets.
In order to increase their chances of survival when reintroduced in the wild, the animals should not get used to human touch, human voice, or pampering of any sort. That is how one can truly help them to go back to where they belong.
And this is the part that seems to be the hardest to accept for those volunteering in wildlife rescue centers.
In the end, people tend to volunteer in a rescue center because they want to interact with animals. But actually, the best way to help them is not interacting.
Wild animals are not cats or dogs. They are not pets (or at least they shouldn’t be). Their place is out there, in nature, socializing with other animals of their species, instead of entertaining the humans.
3. It is about them, not about you
So, this is the paradox. If you truly love animals, you need to do whatever is best for them. It is of course extremely rewarding for anyone to hold a baby monkey and comfort him/her
…or to talk with the animals that are an enclosure “oh little one, what happened to you? you are cuuute” or “move a little bit, that I need to clean that corner”
…or just let them perch on your shoulder or sit on your head while you clean the enclosure…
But, one needs to think ahead, and put things in perspective. What will happen to that animal, for example a parrot, if instead of being up in the canopy with other parrots, gets used to fly towards the humans and sit on their shoulder? Chances are high that it will end up killed or captured as a pet. Do you really want to be part of that? I bet the answer is no, right?
4. So, what is the work volunteers do?
So, probably you are wondering, if the volunteers are not interacting with the animals, what are they doing?
Most of the time, volunteers do support activities for which no specialize knowledge is needed. Basically cleaning. Cages need to be clean on a daily basis, dishes need to be washed and there is an insane amount of laundry to be done in a rescue center. So, the work of the volunteer is about 75% of the time devoted to cleaning, 15 % to other activities, like for example picking up wild fruits or leaves for the wild animals and maybe a 10% is devoted to some activity involving direct interaction with an animal, and this does not happen every day.
4. And how is it done?
I guess that the answer to that depends on the center. But the people working at the center, at least at the one that we are volunteering now have a lot of experience recovering animals that if possible, will be returned to the wild. They have thought through all the details and when they ask the volunteers to do things in a certain way, you can bet that there is a well-founded reason for that. In other words, it is not a good practice to innovate on the tasks, unless it has been discussed with the rescue center staff.
This does not mean that one cannot suggest improvements. In my short experience volunteering in a wildlife rescue center, I have noticed how open the staff is to suggestions.
5. So, this is how you can really help
- Mentally prepare yourself to the fact that volunteering in a rescue center is not about interacting with wild animals in general…but rather avoiding interaction (unless you get instructions to do so).
- The best way to help wildlife animals to return to the wild might be the less obvious and definitively less romantic than most of the people think. It is about cleaning shit, washing dishes or sweeping floors, placing food plates and preparing food plates. For the animals to be healthy and return to where they belong, they need, among other things, clean and safe enclosures that recreate as much as possible their habitat, proper food in clean dishes, and enrichments to deal with their psychological well-being. So, the background job that volunteers done is paramount for the recovery and return of the animals to the wild.
So, if you think that you didn’t sign up for a volunteer job in a wildlife rescue center to spend the day washing dishes or cleaning poo in the enclosures…may be this job is not for you. You will end up frustrated.
And there are thousands of other opportunities to volunteer in animal welfare or conservation. For example, a cat & dog rescue center, where the purpose is usually the opposite of the wildlife rescue center: to socialize the animals rather than to keep them wild or wildlife monitoring, where the purpose is to support wildlife research. Or a conservation project for monitoring species in the wild.
Yet, if you are really committed to do whatever it takes to help an animal recover and return to the wild, even if it means countless hours brushing, scrubbing, sweeping, desinfecting and drying, then you will be rewarding with the absolutely priceless sight of seeing an animal returned to nature. Hopefully, to live a long life in the wild.