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Virginia wildlife hospital treats thousands each year. Every animal comes with a lesson

Raina with Rosalie
Wildlife Center of Virginia Staff member, Raina DeFonza with Education Ambassador, Rosalie

Just like human hospitals, a wildlife hospital handles life-or-death struggles every day — and each patient represents a wider story about the world around them.

The Wildlife Center of Virginia sees more than 3,700 patients each year. Every bird, reptile, mammal, and amphibian is treated with the goal of returning them to their normal function and routines. Whatever their outcome, each one is an important part of the research and education at the heart of the Wildlife Center’s mission.

By keeping records of the illnesses and injuries they treat, the center’s staff can identify the frequency and patterns of common problems and use that information to prevent further harm. Tracking these details has helped to determine the alarming prevalence of lead poisoning in bald eagles, for example, and to educate the public on prevention.

Animals that survive their ordeal, but are not quite healed enough to return to their normal routines, might stay on as an education animal. These former patients are given a comfortable home at the center, and featured in tours and off-site programs to educate the public about how they can prevent a similar fate for other animals. Meeting an opossum that was hit by a car, for example, can really help kids understand that highway littering might lure these creatures a bit too close to danger.

Even an animal that doesn’t survive can teach something to researchers or the general public. The circumstances of its demise might provide helpful data for an ongoing project, like identification of the species involved in aviation bird strikes. Its remains could become a practice subject for veterinary students, or an educational specimen for a museum. Its feathers might be useful to Native Americans for religious and ceremonial purposes.

What You Can Do!

Keep your eyes open. If you find a wild animal that is sick or hurt, or notice something concerning about their behavior or habitat, make a note of it and report it to the proper authorities. You could be the reason an animal survives, and the source of some helpful information that saves others. 

Know your wildlife laws. As fascinated as you may be by the animals you find (or their feathers, nests, or eggs), think twice before taking them home. If you can’t resist the urge to share your discovery with friends and family, take some photos and make those your souvenirs.

Understand that the ending isn’t always happy. It’s unfortunate, but death is a part of wildlife rehabilitation. Although it’s sad when an animal doesn’t survive its experience, they can still offer information that benefits others, everywhere from the veterinary lab to the airport

Check out The Wildlife Center of Virginia to learn more about the wild animals around you, and how you can help keep them safe.