Arxiu de la categoria: OPINION

5 experiences in a wildlife rescue center

If you’re a former, present or future biology student this interests you. One of the most rewarding work experiences I ever had was working in a wildlife rescue center. Actually, I worked as a technical assistant veterinary, but allowed me to know how a center like this (led by a biologist) works and have direct contact with wildlife. These are just 5 experiences and lessons learned from that adventure.

WHAT IS A WILDLIFE RECOVERY CENTER?

It is a center where sick or injured wild animals are welcome where they have veterinary care and food until they are able to fend for themselves. Then they are released into the wild. This centers are of great importance for the conservation of the species, especially those that are endangered or vulnerable. The contact with animals should be the minimum to avoid humanizing them and not change their behavior so they can survive once reintroduced in nature.

Some centers also breed in captivity threatened species, such as the Hermann’s tortoise (Testudo hermanni) to try to recover wild populations introducing the offspring in nature.

Eagle flying in the Wildlife recovery center “El Valle”, Murcia. Photo taken from Murcia enclave environmental

Unfortunately, some animals are unrecoverable due to his injuries or behavior, so in the center they lived some birds of prey such as the goshawk (Accipiter gentilis) to be an example in environmental education and awareness.

If you find an injured animal, NEVER try to keep, treat or feed it: probably you’ll cause more injuries. Always call one of these centers or local authorities. They have the facilities and appropriate knowledge to treat these animals.

1. CLEAN, CLEAN AND…  MORE CLEANING

The first information I got when I entered the center was: “80% of the time of this work is to clean the animal facilities. But the remaining 20% ​​is  worth rewarding. “

The director was right. It is a job where you’ll get dirty, and if you’re a little apprehensive, it is not for you or you’ll need to get used (and believe me, you get used to almost everything , cleaning was not the hardest thing I faced). But see how it goes ahead an animal that you have taken care, is priceless.

2. THE WONDER OF WORKING IN THE MIDDLE OF NATURE

The dream of many biologists is working in direct contact with nature. These centers are usually in it, which gives the opportunity to work outdoors, away from the stress and pollution of the city. Sometimes it rains, makes a blazing sun or cold temperatures will freeze your hands and cut your skin. But the good times are terribly comforting. Many of us prefer put up with occasionally adverse weather conditions  rather than being locked in a windowless office for 8 or more hours

In my case we also had a pair of attached facilities outside the center and had to go every day strolling through the woods, with the added appeal and adrenaline (especially if you met a wild boar) to see animals and plants in their habitat.

Natural park of Montseny. Photo by Mireia Querol

The field work was completed by the laboratory and treatment room: analysis of feces, blood, muscle… to detect the presence of parasites in new animals, future reintroduced ones and dead ones: autopsies allow to have a record of possible diseases and epidemics of local fauna.

3. GIVE LIFE… BUT ALSO QUIT LIFE

In addition to maintain proper hygienic conditions, the main occupation that I had was to feed the animals. At that time there were mammals like hedgehogs, badgers or foxes which we fed with fodder and supplements such as worms.

For raptors, one of the most frequent tenants, the diet was based mainly in chicks and mice. The chicks were bought frozen, you just had to plan the thawing and leave them on their premises. In one case I had to hand feed one tawny owl (Otus scops) with a broken wing, so the contact with the animal was inevitable. And feeding a nocturnal bird of prey, althought it was a small one, is complicated task the first time!

autillo, xot, Otus scops,
Tawny Owl (Otus scops). Photo by Mario Cea

The mice instead were kept alive. By ethics and risk the animal was injured, we had to kill them with the least possible suffering before serving them as food. To learn the technique and do it properly, creates a sense of contradiction, so it’s better to focus on the animal you’re trying to save as a peregrine falcon (Falco peregrinus), a viper (Vipera Aspis), a tawny owl (Strix aluco), kestrels (Falco tinnunculus), a hawk (Accipiter gentilis)… For herbivores, such Hermann’s tortoises (Testudo hermanni), was much easier to prepare their food. And the nicest thing, to feed a baby squirrel (Sciurus vulgaris).

Nurse feeding a baby squirrel. Photo by Ezequiel Becerra

The hardest moment is where you have to euthanize an animal. Unfortunately, some animals are seriously injured and you can not do anything to save them. In other cases, if it is not priority species (such as gulls, pigeons, invasive species…) lack of resources and/or legislation euthanasia is the only solution left. First the animal anesthetized to avoid unnecessary suffering, and then euthanized with a syringe directly into the heart to make it as fast as possible. Find the heart with a stethoscope and have to check it has stopped is one of the most harrowing experiences that I had to live there.

So death is also present in these centers. Causes frustration and sadness see dying an animal you are trying to get ahead, or having to euthanize it to avoid suffering, but it is one of the difficulties it has to be faced.

4. HUMANS, THE MAIN REASON OF INCOME OF WOUNDED ANIMALS

The animals arrived to the center through forest rangers, with which you have constant communication, associations or other institutions or individuals. On occasions we moved because it was impossible to move the animal: a huge wild boar (Sus scrofa) hit by a train. The collisions are a leading cause of death of wild animals. The situation could not be more daunting: rain, the animal on the roadside in a pool of his own blood and mud. Were difficult times as we had to apply higher euthanasia doses than normal because he clung to life, besides having to ensure our own security. Finally, for all of us the suffering ended. Dirty and sad, we get on the jeep back to the center.

Fox hit by a car. Photo taken from 20 minutos

The possession of wild animals as pets causes accidents by negligence or ignorance of their owners: was the case of an eagle which it had cut its primary feathers so he could not fly when it wasn’t a harmless chick anymore. He had to undergo surgery and expect to grow new feathers and learn to fly again.

Pets themselves also causes serious injuries: for example tortoises, iguanas bitten by dogs…

The traps, poisoning and direct shots of hunters , even on protected species like raptors, is another cause of having animals in these centers. Birds also face hazards such as power lines, pylons, wind turbines, wired fences … death traps for many of them.

Dead eagle because shot pellets. Photo taken from Quo

There were few cases where the causes of admission to the center were natural or impossible to determine. In fact, I do not remember any.

5. THAT FEELING WATCHING A RECOVERED ANIMAL FLYING TO FREEDOM

The most wonderful moment is that one in which the animal is ready to return to nature. Planning how and where, taking the journey to the place, checking the surroundings (and if lucky, with the sighting of other species) the moment you open the cage. .. and you see these two kestrels that you have been feeding for months, eager to rise into the sky, you with binoculars in your hand observing them away into the vastness to become tiny black dots… and disappear. I’ve never seen more clearly a metaphor of what freedom is. That feeling, like love, can not be explained.

Maybe it is love, after all


Querol Mireia Rovira

Cover photo: Mireia Querol. Griffon vulture (Gyps fulvus) in flight over the Foz of Lumbier (Navarra, 2007).

* The photos of this post do not belong to the animal rescue center, they are used as an example of the species listed in the post

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Why am I a biologist?

 Why did I study biology? The short answer would be because I feel part of nature and I need to understand how it works. But if you want to know in detail the process that led me to study and work in biology… keep reading!

THE SCHOOL AND WHAT WAS NOT THE SCHOOL

From an early age I have always had a great interest in animals, like almost all children, I guess. I felt a great curiosity and fascination in how they were, how they behaved, where they lived. I enjoyed (and enjoy) long trips in the woods, where I could easily find small animals and observe how insects moved antennae, how birds sang and how difficult was to find them… So my childhood favorite books were those which explained curiosities about animals. Also since very young my parents instilled in me a great respect for other living beings, so I have always felt part of nature and if it is damaged touches me personally.

cape tribulation

When I was a child a fact that amazed me was the visit to the Natural History Museum and the Science Museum of Barcelona: in addition to animals, the world had a lot of wonderful phenomena and also had an explanation. I did not know what I wanted to be when I grew up, but one thing was clear: in school I’d choose science.  Caused me some sadness that many students didn’t choose science only because they would no longer do mathematics. But thanks to this, I was lucky to be in a class with few students and teachers who taught scientific knowledge with the same passion that I received it. If you’re in high school and you also have to choose, even if you don’t like a subject or teacher, if you feel that science in general and biology in particular are for you, do not hesitate and do it. With work and perseverance you can achieve almost anything; furthermore, whatever the path you choose, there will always be a subject or a teacher that you dislike.

THE UNIVERSITY

I must confess that my first choice for university was not biology. Getting into university was a series of mishaps that turn into advantages and led me to study biology, a decision that I should had taken first. What the children who like animals when they grow up? Exactly: veterinarians. That was my first choice and the second, biology. Fortunately (because now I know I could not have been a  veterinarian, vocationally speaking) I did not reach enough mark after the university entrance exam. In fact, the lowest mark I had was in… the biology exam! I also didn’t have enough mark to get into a university in my city, so I had to change the options and study in another city. But what had started as a bad experience, has been one of the best experiences of my life, because this forced independence allowed me to grow rapidly as a person, and to study in a new university at that time, so it was not overcrowded, and I had access to new labs and materials.

fageda de'n jordà
I remember the desmotivating speech of the dean in the first class:  “you have chosen a degree that has no job opportunities”. I did not know what would be my job in the future. I just wanted to know how life worked. If I would finish in a job I did not like, at least, I would have studied something I liked. Two things were clear: I didn’t wanted to be a teacher or not to specialize in anything. Biology was too broad to spend life studying a single subject. Maybe it was a mistake, because I closed myself doors to do a PhD and making contacts that could have helped me to go into the labour market. Do not wait to finish your degree to establish contacts and find out everything you can about job opportunities as soon as you can.

What provided me the degree? That animals are not only interesting, but absolutely everything: plants, fungi, bacteria, ecosystems and genetics… everything works in a fascinating and beautiful way, and even errors of nature and unanswered questions hide wonderful things.

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JOB

Well, it was not quite certain that there was no job for biologists. Even before finishing the degree, studying biology allowed me to start working as an environmental educator. It wasn’t the job I had in mind, but I discovered the great reward it is to transmit knowledge and how it can encourage the curiosity and surprise that I had when I was a child in other small children. During that first job I studied the course of Veterinary Assistant Technician, which allowed me to work outdoors with wildlife. While it is a job sometimes little grateful (most of the time is to clean the enclosures of animals), releasing an animal to nature that you’ve taken care of during their recovery is priceless.

Pressured by the prejudice that “the only thing you can do with biology is become a teacher” I wanted to try with a Master of Environmental Impact Studies. Again, I did not establish contacts because I was working as an educator and I did not access any business practice. But now I do not know if I would feel comfortable working in a consultancy. If you’re not sure if you’ll like it, I think is a mistake to study something to get jobs with a supposed higher salary.

So I continued spreading biology and science in different centers. As the great Carl Sagan said, after all, when you’re in love, you want to tell everybody.

sidney

The experience definitely made me understand that children are the future, and the adults also need to continue learning to understand that if we do not respect life, everyone is harmed. And to do not make mistakes due to ignorance or fear, we should open ourselves to the vast field of knowledge that biology has. Being sustainable and respectful towards other living beings also makes us better people towards other people.

THE FUTURE

But what if at last it ends up that you don’t like the field that you studied or your job or project cannot continue? Well, certainly in biology you will find another area that interests you or has currently more job opportunities. There are many options: working in the field, in the laboratory, in a completely unknown natural environment, making studies of conservation, wildlife, botany, biomedical research, teaching, environmental consultancy … Maybe you’ll have to re-study to have access to certain jobs, but it is never too late to change. Biology, like any other subject that you feel passion, it’s just a lifestyle, a way to see the world, rather than something you have to study to find a job. And if finally you do not work with anything related to biology, you will continue having these knowledge that will make you enjoy and understand the world every time you go on a nature trip or new discoveries appear.

CArnota