by Kay & Tony Hayes
You come across an injured wild animal, and you desperately want to help it, but don’t know what to do for the best. Kay and Tony Hayes, Australian licensed animal carers explain what you must do to help an injured, and frequently terrified animal.
Following his instructions, you can avoid the mistakes that so many people make, which frequently make the animal’s plight even worse.
Kay and Tony also give valuable hints in avoiding getting hurt yourself when a frightened animal fears for its life.
If you do as Kay and Tony advise, you will no longer be at a loss, and feel so helpless, when confronted with this difficult situation.
For both furred animals and birds, the principles used in initial care are much the same.
If you have an inclination to assist animals in distress, then you could usefully keep a ‘kit’ in the car. If you are not carrying a kit, then try to replicate as much of the following as possible by way of improvisation.
The next chapter tells you what this simple rescue kit should contain.the end of them!
By all means help – but y’all be careful out there, hey!
A reasonably sturdy cardboard box. Something capable of taking a dozen bottles of wine does not take much room, but will accommodate most animals. Soft padding for the bottom of the box flexible enough to be moulded into a ‘nest’ to give stability to extreme infants or be used as wedges to support fractures etc.
A large towel, or piece of blanket, for covering purposes.
A pair of strong but supple leather gloves, preferably with wrist cuffs to protect the hands. If you do not wear glasses, then also carry a pair of industrial eye defenders (goggle-type things).
A pair of good quality wire cutters and scissors are also handy for entangled victims. All of these can be kept in the box.
Have a contact telephone list of local wildlife carers or other agencies who will be able to help by taking animals or giving advice.
Do not rush into things. Look carefully at the scene and, if the animal is mobile, and may moved, then position yourself between it and the place you would least like it to go to.
Move any spectators well back (especially children) and request everyone to remain silent and still.
Get your kit out with the top wide open and the bottom padding formed for the particular purpose.
Put on the gloves and eye protection (if needed) and put any cutting tools in an easily-reached pocket.
How to Proceed
Do not make any sharp or sudden movements and keep any speaking you have to do at low volume in a soothing tone.
Do not whistle or ‘cluck’ at the animal – you do not speak the language and may ‘say’ something that upsets it!
Above all, come up with a firm plan of action of what you intend to do, when and how.
Inform anyone else of this who you may require to help you.
You must be determined in your resolve and show no fear of the animal!
These are usually very easy and simply require picking up and placing in the box and the cover cloth put over to keep the box closed and dark.
However, if the animal is very tiny, unfeathered or unfurred, then wrap the body in something soft to preserve body heat for during the transportation – particularly in colder climes.
While the following applies mainly to Australia and is about Marsupials (those animals which give birth then continue the growing process with the baby in the pouch and firmly attached to a teat) other counties do have marsupials also.
Check out any victim for male or female. If female, then explore for a pouch and see if the pouch is empty. If an infant is there, DO NOT attempt to take it off the teat! No matter how gentle you are, you will do irreparable damage to the still-forming jaws and teeth. This is a bit gruesome, but the teat has to be cut from the mother’s body and then a peg or safety pin put through the severed teat so the baby cannot ingest it and choke.
The animal WILL be in some form of shock. It will also be frightened and feel extremely threatened in its disabled condition. It will assume you are attacking it with intent to kill and eat it! It is therefore quite likely to defend itself!
How serious this is depends on the species.
Parrots are real bastards, and will continue attacking.
The equally large and potentially more dangerous Flying Fox bat almost always latches on to what you are doing and can be quite co-operative while you spend up to half an hour getting them off a barbed wire fence.
The bottom line here, and it is common to all species, is that the animal will be calmer and feel less threatened if it cannot see and is in, at least, semi darkness. When you are ready to start, the first thing you do is to cover the animal with the cover cloth you have with you by casting it over the animal.Put the animal straight into the box. Make no attempt to examine it unless it is obviously bleeding badly. In this case, apply a light but firm pressure pad to the wound for a few minutes (or tape the pad in place).
If the animal is placid, you can release it from the wrapping. If it is active and aggressive, then leave it wrapped up and secure the box with other covers. Do not then allow onlookers to start having ‘peeks’ at it. The animal will become more uncertain and shock is actually the big killer you are fighting!
When dealing with an injured or dead female that is a pouched animal, then be aware that some carry advanced infants on their bodies, but not in the pouch when moving (Flying Foxes, for example, fly all night with young clinging to them). So cast around the area for possible signs of an infant that has become dislodged and listen for faint distress cries which you may not hear more than a couple of paces away.
As soon as possible, transport the animal and have it placed in a darkened and quiet spot (unused spare bedroom) unless you can take it directly to somewhere you know it will be cared for.
If the animal has open wounds, then by all means gently bathe these and treat them with antiseptics. Do not spend too long on this – the important thing is to get the animal in a quiet, darkened environment so it has the best chance of dealing with its own shock. A lot of clean-up can be done after 24 hours.
In hot climates, do not keep the animal too tightly confined in case it overheats. At the same time, be very aware that unfeathered, unfurred, or obviously very young animals have not developed body temperature control yet and have to be kept continuously warm – but NOT slow cooked! Similarly, animals in shock need to be kept warm.
The animal must be kept isolated from other animals until it is over its initial shock, and until you have a good grip of what is wrong with it. This usually takes about three days.
Even members of its own kind may attack it.
If the animal appears ill but not otherwise obviously injured, then do not allow it in contact with another animal. There are a lot of viral problems around and some are very easily transmitted!
As a general rule you MUST NOT feed the animal for at least 24 hours. You must certainly not feed it until you know what species it is. That can be very difficult with unfeathered or juvenile birds as they look nothing like their parents.
All animals are part of the natural food chain and play their own part in this. They may therefore be exclusively meat eaters, insect/grub eaters, exclusively fish eaters, seed eaters, honey eaters, plant eaters or aquatic plant/animal eaters. Some of them may be omnivorous in any variety you would like to name – but which one?
The ‘bread and milk’ that is so popular can be lethal – particularly with infants. Many animals are intolerant of cows milk and operate on different forms of milk with a different base structure.
If you have to keep the animal, and do not know what it is, then pick up the phone and try and find out so you will be able to feed it adequately.
Having read the Riot Act, there is some latitude. If the animal has obviously been incapacitated for some time then dripping a weak mix of water and glucose into its mouth will help re-hydrate it and give an anti-shock energy buffer. It may take a few goes to get it drinking, but then do not ‘force feed’ it once it has started, let it take what it wants.
If the animal has bone fractures, then these will have to be reset and immobilised. The important thing to realise is there is a time limit. The fracture reduction has to happen within approximately 48 hours of injury. The bone ends will then otherwise start healing over and will not unite again.
A great deal of success (over 75%) may be had with even poor-looking broken wings – providing care is prompt and knowledgeable.
Fractures from collisions with vehicles involve pelvic injury. This may not be very obvious – the animal cannot stand or walk and you assume leg or spinal damage. Just give the animal rest as described if there is no sign of fracture as you could be dealing with ligament damage or serious bruising which do ease within a couple of days and you get a clearer picture.
If the animal is still in difficulty after this period, then the chances are it has a fractured pelvis. There is little or nothing you can do about these in terms of reducing the fracture. Keep the animal quiet and in the darkened environment and feed it once you know its diet. The diet should normally include calcium but get advice on this for the species.
We are getting into rehabilitation now, which we do not want to do in this article. We normally find about three weeks (for a bird medium parrot size – but will vary on species) are required for a pelvic fracture to heal itself, during which time the animal then becomes steadily more active. A further couple of weeks are required to allow the animal to rebuild muscle tone before release.
Birds may be found lying on the ground, incapable of much movement, with beaks gaping and panting on very hot days. Having established there is nothing else wrong with the bird, then spray it lightly with clean, cool water from a hand garden sprayer to let evaporative cooling do its work. Alternatively, sit the bird in a tub with a couple of inches of water in it to achieve a similar effect. Usually, the bird should be free to go after it has dried out and had a couple of hours rest.
Birds flying into windows are commonplace. The bird may not be more than stunned, dazed or concussed. It also could have a brain haemorrhage! Any bird which you find after this event should be confined for 24 hours observation in a quiet, darkened environment, no matter how quickly it seems to recover.
If you sustain any scratches or bites when engaged in rescue work, then the wounds should be promptly bathed with antiseptics and, if deep, then medical opinion should be obtained along with possible tetanus injections.
Be generally wary of anything with powerful beaks, such as the parrot family. The raptors (birds of prey) tend to look fierce so you are wary of the big ripping beaks. In fact, the feet are far more deadly. Those razor-sharp talons are what the bird uses to attack and kill with, and those are what it will primarily use on you!
A lot of birds with long bills look stately and elegant, but their beaks can, and are, used as thrusting swords with incredible swiftness. Eye protection is an absolute must with any long rapier-like beak on the end of a long neck!
Doubtless, there are local animals all around the world that have their quirks you need to know about if they are in your back yard. In Australia, for example, it seems quite quaint when a large kangaroo stands up in front of you and grabs your arms with its own front paws, looking deep into your eyes.
Yup! But what it is doing, is getting into attack position and with the top half supported on you, it will lift the bottom half on its strong tail and then disembowel you with its powerful hind legs with huge claws on the end of them!
By all means help – but y’all be careful out there, hey!
If you will excuse the pun, I have only scratched the surface, but there is enough here to get you going and buy the animal some time.
Even a critically injured animal that can never be released to the wild again could go into a captive breeding programme. But, generally, if they can be saved, then they should be released back into the wild they came from to help maintain their own gene pool so that they will still be around in our own generations to come.
Above all else get advice from your local wildlife carers or established government agencies for conservation to help you treat, feed and release the animal you have extended your help to.
You may not be able to keep the animal, you may not, and sometimes should not, keep it. That can be a wrench, but your priority is to the life you are saving, and the preservation of that life takes priority.
– Kay &Tony Hayes
(Licenced Animal Carers)
Toogoolawah, Queensland, Australia.