Vets Take Charge In Fight Against Extinction

wlhtsA new breed of veterinarians is teaming up with wildlife biologists and other scientists to heal wild and endangered animals that are sick, hurt, or injured. They are also studying and implementing new ways to increase the populations of endangered animals and bring them back from the brink of extinction.

Why would wild animals, especially endangered species, need medical treatment? A key reason is–humans. Growing cities and rural populations mean natural wildlife habitats are being overrun by human development. Thus habitat loss cuts down the places where animals normally live and breed, and populations fall. It also brings humans and wild animals into close contact. The animals usually get the worst of it.

Injuries caused by collusions with cars, windows, fences, and power line makes up many of the cases wild animal vets treat. Pollution, such as oil and toxic chemical spills in inland and coastal waters, also increases the numbers of animals that need medical treatment. The Wildlife Rehabilitation Council in California, for example, specializes in treating animals like sea otters and gulls that have been victims and oil spills.

Caution! Wild Animal!

Vets treating a wild animal use extra caution. The animal has probably never been so close to humans. It has also never been closed in a room or cage. All of this frightens the animal, making it more likely to bite or strike out. It also can increase the injured animal’s blood pressure or worsen the effects of shock or trauma. Covering the animal’s head or giving it a drug can relieve the stress and calm the animal so that it doesn’t sustain further injury.

During treatment and recovery, the vets and volunteer workers watch their patients carefully. Wild birds, for example, aren’t used to being on their feet. So the treatment staff needs to check for foot sores on the caged birds. They also watch the animal’s diet carefully. The animals must be able to remember their natural food and how to eat it. Otherwise, the animals could starve when the go back into the wild.

Dis-endangered Species?

vets and scientists are also working on ways to help populations of endangered species grow so they can be removed from endangered status. One technique uses reproductive science and technology, including genetic databases, livestock breeding methods, and reproductive biology to increase breeding success.

Another approach is called captive breeding. Here, endangered animals are captured in the wild and put into specially fenced or controlled areas where scientists can use techniques to increase the number of eggs or live young produced. Then, as the young mature, the strongest and healthiest can be carefully reintroduced into their natural habitat to help increase wild population.

An example: the black-footed ferret lives in the Western United States. In 1986, when only 18 were left in the world, the ferrets became infected with a disease found in pet dogs. Scientists moved quickly to get all the ferrets they could find into a protected area in Wyoming before the disease wiped them out.

Once in the captive breeding facility, veterinarians and biologists worked to eliminate the canine disease from the ferret population. Then they tried to encourage the ferrets to mate to produce more healthy young. After many problems, the ferrets began to multiply in their new home.

By 1991, the number of captive black-footed ferrets had increased to over 300. In the fall of 1990, scientists began to release a few ferrets back into the wild, hoping that the wild population will soon begin to increase.

Other captive breeding program are being tried with the peregrine falcon, the Florida panther, the red wolf, and the California condor.

In spite of the problems caused by loss of habitat, human contact, and shrinking populations, wild animals vets are having good success healing their patients. They are helping these animals, including protected and endangered species, return to their wild ways.

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