Wildlife rehabilitation: Ethics and code of behavior

The primary reason for interfering with wildlife is to relieve it of distress caused due to anthropogenic pressures. The very first rule of rescuing or assisting any wildlife in distress is to interfere minimally. In many cases, an animal can be assisted indirectly or remotely and be empowered to help its own self. Such animals must never be brought into captivity.

No suspected orphan must ever be displaced without ascertaining the whereabouts of its mother, and before ascertaining that the individual, for any reason, is not receiving parental care. Even with the best of our intentions, we must never create a wildlife orphan accidentally.


Rescue of individual animals is primarily a welfare initiative. As an animal in captivity is entirely dependent on the caretaker to fulfill all of its needs, it is our responsibility, as caregivers, to provide optimum care. All decisions with regards to an individual animal must be made keeping its highest welfare in mind.

Refrain from public display of rescued animals, esp. animals under rehab


Humans are not a natural part of a wild animal’s world or daily life. All wild animals have an innate fear of human beings and human contact is frightening for wild animals.

Where wildlife needs to be exposed to the public for education purposes, it is done in a responsible and well-planned manner, with the purpose of creating awareness and encouraging public empathy. This is also always done with the help of animals that are habituated to people.

Seeing cute, cuddly, baby animals (even in rehab facilities) also stimulates people to want them as pets, thereby encouraging the trade in exotic species (and unintentionally driving the illegal wildlife pet trade market).

Transfer of animals to well-equipped facilities


Not all facilities may have the facilities to cater to the needs of all species. Instead of housing an individual/species that can’t receive optimum care or undergo adequate rehabilitation, it is advisable to transfer the individual to another appropriately equipped facility where the animal can reach its rehabilitation potential and be considered for timely release.


All hand-raised young must undergo a period of active rehabilitation, with lots of behavioral and feeding enrichment, before they can be considered for release. This prepares them for survival after release. Although there are general guidelines for each species, each animal, depending on its history and state of mind, may take sooner or longer to be able to survive on its own. If there is any doubt about the animal’s behavior/instincts and readiness, rehabilitation must be continued until the animal is ready.

Releasing wild animals

Animals must only ever be released in any location after completing a formal/informal Site Selection process and ensuring that the release site will cater to all of the animal’s needs. ICUN’s guidelines for translocation and re-introduction can guide you in the same.

A commonly practiced approach is to release the animals at or closest to the site of rescue. Yet, the cause that necessitated the rescue in the first place must always first be ruled out. With increasing anthropogenic pressures, and deforestation and fragmentation, animals come to be in situations of peril simply because of a lack of resources. If there are serious biological/ environmental imbalances at the location, it will be wise to consider another place for release altogether.

Transmission of diseases

Animals in captivity are often housed in unnatural proximity to many species from various locations, and may often carry various pathogens. When these pathogens manifest in disease, the animals are most certainly treated, but often, they may not manifest in disease and the animal may carry the pathogen across to a new environment thereby threatening the biodiversity of that environment. Just as animals go through a quarantine check on admission to the center, it is important that they go through a thorough health check and any required treatments before being released.

Conservation oriented

We must always, to the best of our abilities, work in tandem with any ongoing conservation initiatives and in consultation with relevant conservation organizations. Although welfare and conservation of wildlife may often be two entirely separate ideologies, no way must a welfare initiative ever compromise the survival of any existing wild population.

Releasing non-native or invasive species

A species must never be introduced outside their natural distribution range. Species that are not native to a particular environment may not find the resources necessary for survival. They have also not evolved with the local environment and thus are more vulnerable to predators – lack of camouflage, non-recognition of predators, etc. predisposes them to fall prey.

Invasive species can have severe detrimental effects on the local flora and fauna. There is also always the threat of any non-native species becoming an invasive – if it can survive in a novel environment, it has the potential of out-competing the local fauna. All legalities and conservation consequences must be considered before releasing an invasive species outside its natural distribution range, even if it has been rescued from that place. Such candidates may be shifted to lifetime care facilities or translocated for strengthening a natural population elsewhere.


Working hands-on with an animal gives you the best possible opportunity to study its biology, behavior, needs and preferences, etc. in close quarters. Such studies, if at all possible, are often unfeasible in wild populations without interfering or resulting in habituation of a wild population.

It is our privilege and responsibility as rehabilitators to take down detailed notes not only on the care given but also on the behavior, growth and development, etc. of the individuals/species in our care. Such privileged observations, when recorded in a systematic manner over a period of time, can prove to be extremely valuable and provide better understanding of the species.

Never interfere with a natural hunt

We must never attempt to interfere with the natural course of events in nature, or impede a hunt in the name of a rescue. Predators and prey are an integral part of the natural food chain and we must never confuse interference with compassion.

It is our duty to protect any animal, which we are rehabilitating, during the rehabilitation stage alone. If required, for any valid reason, we may only ever attempt to scare the predator away without causing it any physical harm or damage.

Adhere to legalities

All actions must be carried out in compliance with any prevailing laws for wildlife in your state and country. There may be times when a law may not be in the best interests of a particular individual. At such times, special permission to act otherwise must be sought from the relevant authorities.

Empower communities

Conservation as a whole can only succeed when the masses are involved.

Myths and customs, through centuries, have acted as controls on human behavior and afforded protection to wildlife. Modern lifestyles not only make the implementation of such beneficial myths impracticable but they also cause more damage now. The increasing isolation from the natural world brings with it a lack of respect and concern for natural environments or the need for their preservation.

Successful conservation can only be achieved through awareness, honest communication and by empowering the people. We must always attempt to sensitize, educate and enlist the masses as nature warriors rather than keep them in fear and darkness.

Useful Links

BWRC (2012) Ethics

Cascades Raptor Centre (2012) Wildlife rehabilitator code of ethics

Kentucky Wildlife Centre (2008) Ways to help wildlife

NWRA (2011) Wildlife Rehabilitators Code of Ethics 

The Humane Society of the United States (2009) Should wild animals be kept as pets?

WAZA (2003) Code of ethics and animal welfare