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Wildlife Rehabilitation Jobs: Options and Requirements

Learn about the education and preparation needed to work in wildlife rehabilitation. Get a quick view of the requirements as well as details about training, job duties, and permits to find out if this is the career for you.

Essential Information

Jobs in wildlife rehabilitation bring together the fields of veterinary medicine, natural history, animal behavior, environmental studies, ethics, public service and education. A lot of wildlife rehabilitation centers provide on-the-job training, although additional state and federal permits may be required. Careers in wildlife rehabilitation can vary in job responsibilities, but individuals can expect to be in contact with animals and perform physically demanding tasks.

Required EducationHigh school diploma with related experience or degree in relevant field, such as biology or veterinary medicine
Other RequirementsFederal and state permits may be required*
Projected Job Growth (2012-2022) 15% for animal care and service workers**
Average Salary (2013) $22,510 per year for non-farm animal caretakers**

Sources: *National Wildlife Rehabilitators Association, **U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Wildlife Rehabilitation Job Options

The primary goal of wildlife rehabilitation is to provide care for orphaned, sick or injured animals, and return them to their natural habitat once they have healed or are capable of surviving on their own. Nonprofit agencies compose the bulk of wildlife rehabilitation centers, and range from small home-based operations to care stations in sanctuaries. Government agencies also employ vet techs and wildlife specialists at the state and federal levels.

Entry-level work in wildlife rehabilitation is available through internships at animal conservation centers and wildlife rehabilitation facilities specializing in native and exotic species. Internships may be paid or unpaid and provide hands-on training in the care and feeding of wildlife.

A secondary goal pursued by many wildlife rehabilitators is to increase public awareness of threats against wildlife and the ways in which humans and wildlife can safely cohabitate within the same geographic area. Large centers may hire educators, research scientists and fundraising specialists.

Job Requirements

It's helpful for wildlife rehabilitators to have strong communication skills and patience, as well as the ability to handle sick, injured and dying animals. Wildlife rehabilitation activities may be dangerous and typically involve working long hours.

Permits, Licensure and Certification

Permits are required to operate a wildlife rehabilitation center in the United States. Federal permits to rehabilitate certain wild birds and protected species are available from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Individual states issue additional permits and licenses for wildlife rehabilitators. State regulations vary, but exams and letters of recommendation are typical requirements. Wildlife rehabilitators usually focus on the rescue of one type of animal or species, such as birds, reptiles, mammals and aquatic creatures.

Voluntary certification is available from the International Wildlife Rehabilitation Council (theiwrc.org). Passing the certification exam indicates that individuals possess the skills and knowledge to rehabilitate wildlife.

Education Requirements

Wildlife rehabilitation jobs may be obtained based solely on experience; however, formal training may be required by some state permitting agencies. Wildlife rehabilitation draws on expertise in multiple areas, and relevant degrees are available in veterinary medicine, animal behavior, zoology, wildlife biology, biochemistry, veterinary technology and animal ecology. Some schools offer stand-alone courses in wildlife rehabilitation that prepare graduates for entry-level positions in animal management and care.

Job Outlook and Salary Info

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) doesn't publish information pertaining to wildlife rehabilitation, but it does have data for animal care and service workers. According to the BLS, the number of employment opportunities in this field was projected to increase 15% from 2012-2022, which is a bit faster than average. The average salary among non-farm animal care and service workers of all types was $22,510 as of 2013.

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