Getting Started in Wildlife Rehabilitation

Becoming a wildlife rehabilitator is a multi-stage process that involves permitting, training, and professional continuing education. To help those who are interested in this fascinating and rewarding field, the Wildlife Center of Virginia offers the information on this page to help aspirants get oriented to the process.

Those interested can start with this video from the Wildlife Center's Wildlife Care Academy.

Permit Conditions

The first step to obtaining a wildlife rehabilitation permit is to fully read and understand the permit conditions where you live. Wildlife rehabilitation law varies dramatically even within the US, there are even some states that allow no rehabilitation at all. Find the state permitting agency in your area, which will provide wildlife laws and permitting conditions surrounding wildlife rehabilitation. We also recommend searching for a state rehabilitation association (though please note that some states do not have one).

In Virginia, wildlife rehabilitation is governed by the Department of Wildlife Resources, and the permit conditions can be found here.

Permit Categories

Wildlife Rehabilitation permits are usually classified into categories based on experience and resources. Here are the Virginia permit categories as an example:

  • Category I permittees, or apprentices, are for individuals who have less than two years of rehabilitation experience. Apprentices must be sponsored and supervised by a Category II or III permittee.
  • Category II permittees are those with advanced skills and more than two years of rehabilitation experience. Category II permittees may be individuals (IIA) or organizations (IIB).
  • Category III permittees are professionally operated facilities with an on-site veterinary staff.
  • Category IV permittees, or care providers, are able to work at a facility of a Category I, II, or III permitted rehabilitator. Category IV permittees may not care for wildlife in their own homes.
  • Category V permittees are students who are in Virginia only temporarily for training and do not intend to continue to care for wildlife in Virginia long term.

Sponsors

In most states, new wildlife rehabilitators must obtain a sponsor. A sponsor is a permitted wildlife rehabilitator who holds an advanced permit; they will provide education, training, and support for you as you gain wildlife rehabilitation experience (this is generally referred to as an apprenticeship). This step is necessary for obtaining your permit; two years of apprenticeship are required in Virginia before independent permits are considered. Most game department websites have a list of permitted rehabilitators who can serve as sponsors. In Virginia, the Department of Wildlife Resources maintains such a list.

Continuing Education

In many states, to obtain or renew permits, rehabilitators must attend approved education related to wildlife rehabilitation. The number of required hours varies; in Virginia, six hours are required annually.

The On-Demand Introductory Courses in Wildlife Care Academy are a great place to start for those looking to obtain a Category I permit. Other courses are suited to continuing education of permitted rehabilitators.

The Wildlife Center's annual Call of the Wild Conference is another source of ongoing education for rehabilitators.

Two professional wildlife rehabilitation organizations offer opportunities for continuing education and networking, as well as high-quality publications on an assortment of rehabilitation topics. It is highly recommended that those who are interested in wildlife rehabilitation look into one or both of these groups.

Cooperating Veterinarian

As an apprentice, you will have access to the resources your sponsor utilizes and will be providing care mainly for healthy orphaned animals. However, to graduate to an independent permit, you will need to establish a relationship with a veterinarian. Your veterinarian will help to provide medical care and support for your patients. It is essential for successful rehabilitation that such a relationship exists.

Facility Inspection

As a new applicant, you should spend some time setting up and organizing your “facility.” This means selecting the area in which you will be rehabilitating wildlife. The area can be an unused bedroom, basement, outbuilding, etc, but must have a door that separates it from living quarters. Obtain the necessary equipment (e.g., cages, heating pads, scale, hygrometer, handling gloves, and syringes) and food (e.g., formulas, solid foods) needed to care for your patients. Create medical logs/log sheets and feeding charts, build outdoor caging (if applicable), organize and clean work areas and housing areas. This area will be inspected by conservation police officer once you initiate the permitting process with your state wildlife agency.

Apply for the Permit

Once you have read the permit conditions where you live, familiarized yourself with the process of rehabilitating wildlife, located a sponsor, and have set up your facility, contact the rehabilitation permitting office and submit your permit application!