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First Response Guidelines
for Wildlife Casualties
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Over the last few years, we’ve been working hard behind the scenes to develop better protocols for wildlife rehabilitation in north-east veterinary surgeries across the county, developing existing relationships with numerous surgeries and work to improve the care given to sick and injured wild animals before referral to the charity.
A large proportion of our annual workload involves providing advice and accepting wildlife referrals from over 30 vet practices, typically between Durham and Wooler. Over the years, we have seen a whole variety of issues arise from such referrals and now look to help practices improve the way they treat wildlife casualties before referring to the charity for further care.
Some of the main issues we encounter on a regular basis are:
- Lack of information – no information recorded at reception for new patient. This has a number of major consequences, including lack of background information as to how the animal was found, a means of contact for the finder, no effect means of transfer of ownership from the finder to the surgery and no means of returning the animal or releasing back where found. It also leaves a black hole for any potential wildlife crime associated with the animal; information that would have been vital towards crime statistics or even a prosecution
- Lack of first aid response – little to no first aid given to the animal prior to transfer. This is a very common occurrence for our volunteers to deal with and leads to reduced success rates for wildlife casualties in the delay of potentially life saving treatment being given within good time. Unfortunately, it is not uncommon to have patients referred without being given warmth, hydration, pain relief or any antibiotic cover for the most serious of injuries. The actions we all take as soon as the animal is presented greatly contributes to the final outcome of rehabilitation. This is especially true in animals suffering from shock, head trauma, severe wounds and cat attack victims where it is all too common for patients to succumb to their injuries or infection before arriving at the centre.
- Little to no triage on admission – the decisions we all make when an animal is first presented are very important in determining the correct course of action for a patient. This is closely related to the first point regarding the gathering of important information at reception when the animal is passed over. Sometimes the circumstances surrounding the animal’s behaviour, the time of day, the location etc can be most important – this is especially true in the Summer months where, in communication with a wildlife centre, the correct course of action may be to return to animal back to where it was found with the utmost urgency with no treatment required.
- No clinical history on referral – in order for the charity to continue an animal’s course of treatment after it has left the veterinary surgery, it is vital that any information regarding previous treatments given is passed on to the volunteer on collection, largely to ensure there is no overlap in medication given and the correct frequencies are observed.
In light of the above, in 2017 we released our own Casualty Collection Form to referring vet’s practices in order to provide a basis of recording the essential information we require for our own records and to form a history of the patient, right from when the animal was first rescued up to the point of transfer to the wildlife centre.
The forms can be kept handy at reception and passed over to the finder to complete the relevant information when the patient is handed over. Another essential role of the Casualty Collection Form is providing an effective means of transfer of ownership from the finder to the surgery, allowing veterinary staff to act responsibly and have the freedom to provide treatment including euthanasia when appropriate without the threat of legal action or objection from the finder.
In addition to aiding the correct recording of wildlife casualties presented for treatment, we have also been developing key protocols for use in the identification, triage and effective first aid in the surgery, providing a means for staff to provide necessary care as soon as the patient is presented – the sooner we all act, the better chances of survival for the animal in question.
During the Summer months, we deal with hundreds of calls per month from veterinary centres alone often following on from a drop off of an unidentified baby mammal or bird that has been found by a well meaning-member of the public. It is a very stressful time of year for all involved, with many reception staff being able to recall many difficult situations of animals being dropped at reception, with finders refusing to take the animal back to where it was found. This results in yet another young animal that will need to hand reared and passed down the line to be rehabilitated and eventually released into the wild.
We recognise all the problems associated in providing care for such a wide variety of british wildlife; most veterinary members of staff struggle to identify the animal in question, not to mention providing the correct food, housing, temperature and environment needed for the animal to survive even first few hours of captivity. With this in mind, we’re aiming to continue adding to this section of our website to be used as a local knowledgebase for partnered vet surgeries as an aid to triage, diagnosis, treatment, identification and hand rearing processes. It is hoped that this will improve the ways in which veterinary staff deal with new wildlife casualties and animals requiring hand rearing in the busiest times of the year, focussing on the vital steps that can be taken with each new admission until such a time they can be referred on to the charity for further rehabilitation.