Abstracts: Trends in wildlife rehabilitation rescues and animal fate across a six-year period in New South Wales, Australia

Globally, millions of animals are rescued and rehabilitated by wildlife carers each year. Information gathered in this process is useful for uncovering threats to native wildlife, particularly those from anthropogenic causes.

However, few studies using rehabilitation data include a diverse range of fauna, cover large geographical areas, and consider long-term trends. Furthermore, few studies have statistically modelled causes of why animals come into care, and what are their chances of survival.

This study draws on 469,553 rescues reported over six years by wildlife rehabilitators for 688 species of bird, reptile, and mammal from New South Wales, Australia.

For birds and mammals, ‘abandoned/orphaned’ and ‘collisions with vehicles’ were the dominant causes for rescue, however for reptiles this was ‘unsuitable environment’.

Overall rescue numbers were lowest in winter, and highest in spring, with six-times more ‘abandoned/orphaned’ individuals in spring than winter.

Of the 364,461 rescues for which the fate of an animal was known, 92 per cent fell within two categories: ‘dead’, ‘died or euthanased’ (54.8 per cent of rescues with known fate) and animals that recovered and were subsequently released (37.1 per cent of rescues with known fate).

Modelling of the fate of animals indicated that the likelihood of animal survival (i.e. chance of: being released, left and observed, or permanent care), was related to the cause for rescue. In general, causes for rescue involving physical trauma (collisions, attacks, etc.) had a much lower likelihood of animals surviving than other causes such as ‘unsuitable environment’, ‘abandoned/orphaned’, and this also showed some dependence upon whether the animal was a bird, reptile, or mammal. This suggests rehabilitation efforts could be focused on particular threats or taxa to maximise success, depending on the desired outcomes.

The results illustrate the sheer volume of work undertaken by rehabilitation volunteers and professionals toward both animal welfare and to the improvement of wildlife rehabilitation in the future.

Alan B C Kwok 1, Ron Haering 2, Samantha K Travers 3 4, Peter Stathis 2

PLoS One. 2021 Sep 10;16(9):e0257209.doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0257209. eCollection 2021.

1Independent consultant, Bensville, Australia.

2New South Wales Department of Planning, New South Wales National Parks and Wildlife Service, Industry and Environment, Parramatta, Australia.

3New South Wales Department of Planning, Industry and Environment, Parramatta, Australia.

4Centre for Ecosystem Science, School of Biological, Earth and Environmental Sciences, University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia.

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