EMS for injured wildlife

January 31, 2012

Stunned bobcats, entangled geese, sea-foamed birds – sound like the makings of a horror film? These are just a few of the creatures given a new chance at life by WildRescue, a Bay Area organization that delivers wildlife in distress to animal health clinics.

Clinics and rehabilitation centers are set up to help injured animals on site, but they often lack the resources to capture and transport the animals to their doorsteps. Animals that could be saved, instead die. That cruel fact was the impetus to action for Rebecca Dmytryk, founder of WildRescue who herself has been rescuing wild animals since the early 1980s.

Beer can gull

WildRescue responded to a call for a gull that was found with a beer can shoved around its neck. Photo: WildRescue.

“I founded WildRescue to focus on the emergency response aspect – getting the animal out of danger and to a care facility,” said Dmytryk.

Logistically, the organization works much like human EMS response: someone will call in a report of a distressed animal to the WildRescue hotline, and the responder gathers information about the scenario and checks to see whether there are any volunteers in the area.

Dmytryk estimates that there are about 35 active volunteers – ordinary people who have taken WildRescue’s training class – scattered throughout the San Francisco Bay Area. Despite this, the organization still struggles with a quick response time because more volunteers are needed.

Golden eagle in peril
Volunteer Deanna Barth, who studied wildlife rehabilitation in school and now works at a veterinarian hospital, said while she loves her job, she missed working with wildlife. She began volunteering with WildRescue last January, and said one of the most valuable things she learned was distinguishing normal from abnormal behavior.

 “Before you try to rescue an animal, you need to know whether it needs to be rescued,” she said.

She’ll sometimes go into the field alone to assess a situation, but the rescues are typically handled in teams of two to three. The team devises a strategy before attempting to capture the injured animal.

Barth said one of the more memorable rescues involved an injured golden eagle in Gilroy last summer. The eagle had likely clipped its wing on one of the overhead power lines as it was diving for prey, and had fallen onto a steep, brushy hill.

The man who discovered the bird had called multiple clinics, none of which could do a pickup. By the time WildRescue received the call and devised a plan, the bird had already been injured for two weeks.

While two team members acted as spotters from a higher elevation, Barth and two others created a v-formation search pattern that they typically use in rescues as they walked up the hill. After trying to flush the bird out with no luck, the team eventually succeeded in locating the animal and captured it with heavily gloved hands, and covered its head and wings with a light pillowcase to try to calm the animal as it was moved.

Despite all the efforts, the eagle was not able to recover from its injuries. Such unnecessary lag-time and loss of life is precisely what WildRescue seeks to prevent.

Taking the case
WildRescue is unique in the amount of time and effort it is able to devote to an individual rescue. The Peninsula Humane Society has benefitted from the collaboration, even though it has its own animal control response workers. 

Patrick Hogan, a humane society supervisor and a former WildRescue volunteer, said sometimes animal control doesn’t have the time or training for the specialized work involved in tracking an injured bird. That’s where WildRescue comes in handy. 

Indeed, some rescues can take days or even longer. Take the recent case of a nail-gunned

Nail-gunned hawk

Last fall, WildRescue took the case of a red-tailed hawk that had been nail-gunned to the head. Photo: WildRescue.

red-tailed hawk at Golden Gate Park, which garnered a lot of media attention. Dmytryk said that case took a full week of planning and observation before the hawk could be captured.

Birds are the most common animal that Barth sees, especially ones caught up in fishing lines and other man-made materials. Her latest rescue was a car-struck bobcat in Santa Cruz. The female cat was stunned and bleeding when WildRescue brought it to a wildlife hospital. The initial prognosis did not look good. Miraculously, x-rays showed no injuries, and the animal was released near where it had been hit.

“It was a beautiful animal,” said Barth, “It’s a very rewarding experience to know you played a small part in an animal’s life, really making a difference.”

A video of the bobcat’s release can be seen on WildRescue’s blog.

WildRescue’s local hotline can be reached at 415-979-9700. A statewide hotline that provides referrals to nearby rehabilitation centers can be reached 866-WILD-911.

 A calendar of upcoming volunteer training events can be viewed on their website at

About the Author

Rachel Gulbraa is a Bay Nature editorial intern.

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