Life Lessons

I came to the Wildlife Center of Virginia with one clear goal in mind: to figure out if wildlife rehabilitation is what I want to do for the rest of my life. I have never had a definitive idea of I wanted to do as a career … even after switching majors four times in college and graduating with a B.S. in biology, I’m still not sure what path to follow. I had heard about wildlife rehabilitation my senior year of college and after rolling the idea around in my brain, I found the Wildlife Center rehabilitation externship, which was the perfect opportunity to find out if wildlife rehabilitation was for me. I was super stoked to come, hoping this would be the next step toward determining my future.

I came in with no real expectations other than my above goal and to make the whole thing an experience -- or I guess it could be called an adventure. On my first day, I was required to write down five things that I wanted to learn during my time at the Wildlife Center. I found this difficult because I have found that if I come in with a list of expectations the likelihood of my completing that list is low. However, if I come in with only a couple goals, I find I come out the other side much more satisfied with the experience. In this case, I had two goals: find out if wildlife rehabilitation is my desired career path, and learn as much as possible. As I sit here typing this and reflecting on the past twelve weeks I believe that I have reached both goals, but I also got much more out of this experience that I ever expected.

I’ve loved animals and interacting with them since I was little -- much more than interactions with people I must confess, so, of course, wildlife rehabilitation seemed like an excellent way to minimize human interaction in a career. This, of course, would be a mistake and is not true to what rehabilitators actually do. The two objectives of rehabilitation are to return injured and orphaned animals back to the wild and to educate the public to try and prevent/reduce this kind of contact and hopefully eliminate it completely (unlikely, but that is the dream). These are admirable ambitions, and I wholly respect the people who dedicate their time and lives toward these goals. However, over the course of this externship, I have come to the conclusion that this line of work is not for me. That is not to say I didn’t enjoy my time at the Wildlife Center; I have and I would not change it or take it back, but I don’t think that I can dedicate the next 50 years of my life to this line of work. Nevertheless, I have learned valuable lessons and information during my 12-week stay. Obviously, I’ve learned a great deal about how to care for wildlife in captivity, the most predominant information being what and how to feed the various species in captivity. Much of this information seems to be common sense, but it never ceases to amaze me what people will think of in regard to feeding the wild animals they find. This, of course, only reinforces what rehabilitators work toward.

The animals I have most enjoyed working with have been the raptors. Several years ago I began reading the Maximum Ride series by James Patterson, a sci-fi collection of books about a group of kids that were experimented on by evil scientists -- “evil” being the most accurate adjective to describe them. The scientists interwove bird DNA with the kids’ human DNA, and the end results were humans that had wings and some other physiological and anatomical bird features that allowed them to fly. I am not an evil scientist, but the idea of humans having wings and being able to fly captured my imagination and I became captivated with birds ever since. Working with raptors, being in the flight pens with them and handling them, allowed me to witness the magnificence of these animals, and appreciate what evolution has provided for them that we as humans will most likely never possess, at least not without major genetic engineering. Fortunately or unfortunately, whichever the case may be, those kinds of technological advancements will not come in my lifetime, so I must content myself with associating myself with those creatures who can fly.

While I may not want to pursue a career in wildlife rehabilitation, I may consider pursuing a career that involves raptors seeing as I have enjoyed my time with them, but that will take some consideration. Even if my future doesn’t take me down any pathway related to rehabilitation, wildlife, or even biology, my time at the Center has provided me with information that will allow me to continually be an advocate for the environment and its occupants. As humans continue to infiltrate more and more of the earth’s unsettled areas, those creatures who can’t speak for themselves need as many advocates as they can in order to ensure their numbers aren’t extinguished. I found a quote by Hubert Reeves that I feel sums up the current relationship between humans and nature: “Man is the most insane species. He worships an invisible God and destroys a visible Nature. Unaware that the Nature he is destroying is the God he is worshipping.” 

--Emily S.
WCV Class of 2016