Facts about wildlife rehabilitation
Wildlife rehabilitation involves acquiring and caring for orphaned, sick and injured wild animals, primarily birds and mammals, for the purpose of releasing such animals back to the wild. The only legitimate purpose for wildlife rehabilitation is for the release of animals back to the wild.
NOTE: An unlicensed citizen may NOT attempt to rehabilitate an animal on their own. It is also unlawful to possess or transport injured wildlife for greater than 24 hours unless permitted to do so. Citizens should volunteer or partner with rehabilitation permit holders in order to transport orphaned, sick, or injured wild animal(s) (Rule 6244.0400). Find out more about permitting requirements.
During the past eight years, there have been 60 to 150 wildlife rehabilitators operating under Department of Natural Resources permits. Roughly 60% of permit holders reside in the seven county metro area.
Between 8,000 and 9,000 animals are handled by rehabilitators each year in Minnesota. The Wildlife Rehabilitation Center in Roseville, MN handles an average of 7,300+ animals each year and the Raptor Center at the University of Minnesota admits about 650 birds of prey annually, accounting for nearly 70% of all animals.
Nearly 200 different species of animals are rehabilitated in an average year. On the average, one-third of all animals rehabilitated each year are cottontail rabbits, gray and fox squirrels, and raccoons; the remaining two-thirds are mainly small birds.
Of all animals received by individual rehabilitators, about 50% are ultimately released back to the wild, 25% die, 12% are euthanized, and the remainder transferred to other rehabilitation facilities.
Releasing animals back into the wild, even after a short stay in captivity can be risky!
Disease and non-native species are significant problems facing wild animal populations in Minnesota today. Animals maintained or rehabilitated in captivity may appear healthy but can harbor disease or parasites that would be fatal to that individual if returned to the wild. Released animals can also transmit diseases or parasites to otherwise healthy wild individuals putting wild populations at significant risk. Tests for many wildlife diseases are available, but must be used to be effective and can be expensive. The risk of spreading disease to wild animal populations must be considered before any animal is taken into care. Releasing animals into the wild (especially if they have been moved away from where they were captured) can also interfere with wild animal populations’ genetic, age, and/or gender dynamics.
Permitting for Wildlife Rehabilitation
Since most wild birds and many wild mammals are protected by state law, meaning they cannot be possessed without a permit or license, anyone wishing to engage in wildlife rehabilitation in Minnesota must obtain a wildlife rehabilitation permit from the DNR. Rehabilitation of migratory birds requires a permit from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in addition to the Minnesota DNR permit.
It is strongly recommended that you take introductory wildlife rehabilitation training courses, and get hands-on experience as a volunteer working with practicing rehabilitators before applying for your own permit. Your wildlife rehabilitation training and hands-on experience with animals will insure the welfare of animals in your care.
NOTE: It is unlawful to release non-native animals in Minnesota! Red-eared Slider Turtles, European Starlings, Pigeons (Rock Doves), Mute Swans, and House Sparrows are some examples of animals non-native to Minnesota. Bullfrogs are also non-native outside of Fillmore and Houston counties in Minnesota. Learn more about invasive species.
Before releasing animals maintained or rehabilitated in captivity, please consider the following-
- Is the individual animal a Minnesota "listed" species? (current threatened and endangered species list)
- Protection of a single individual is often a higher priority if it represents a state or federal listed species. Please contact the appropriate regional Nongame Wildlife Program Specialist if rehabilitating endangered or threatened species.
- Is the animal being quarantined? Animals that come into contact with other animals maintained in captivity have increased risk of disease transmission.
- Animal injury could be the result of underlying health problems.
- Is the animal going to be tested for disease before release? See below for a list of diseases that animals should be tested for (by animal group). Please consult with wildlife veterinarians and/or wildlife health specialists.
- Amphibians: Recommend testing for Chytrid Fungus and Ranavirus before release.
- Reptiles: Recommend testing for Ranavirus (turtles), West Nile Virus, and Snake Fungal Disease (snakes) before release.
- Birds: Recommend testing for Avian Influenza, West Nile Virus and Newcastle Disease before release.
- Bats: Recommend testing for White-nose Syndrome and Rabies before release.
- Bats found during winter months should not be relocated to caves where other bats may be hibernating due to the risk of spreading White-nose Syndrome. These bats should be kept until warm enough weather allows their release outside. If they cannot be maintained in captivity, they should be humanely euthanized.
- Other Mammals: Recommend testing for Chronic Wasting Disease, Distemper, and Rabies before release.
- Can the individual be released at the site of its capture?
- Many animals do not survive if released outside their home range.
- Has the individual been injured or orphaned due to human activity?
- Natural processes of life and death sustain Minnesota's biodiversity.
If you answered, "No" to any of these questions, rehabilitation and/or release of this animal may not be a good idea.