How to Become a Wildlife Rehabilitator

I have loved animals my whole life and was lucky enough to grow up on a farm where we had lots of pets, horses, and livestock. I grew up in the 1970s and early ’80s before wildlife rehabilitation laws existed. People were always bringing me wild and domestic animals that had been hurt or orphaned. My parents had a wonderful vet who was always willing to give me guidance and help me with my “babies”.

I became a science and special education teacher and a passionate environmentalist. It was only a matter of time before that morphed into becoming a licensed wildlife rehabilitator.

Do you have a similar story to tell?

Are you interested in becoming a Licensed Wildlife Rehabilitator?  Are you passionate about saving wildlife and helping them to gain the skills necessary to survive in the wild? A love for animals is only the beginning. Rehab takes a lot of time and devotion.

Getting medical treatment for a raccoon hit by a car at Fox Run

Getting medical treatment for a raccoon hit by a car at Fox Run

Requirements For Wildlife Rehabilitation

  • compassion for wildlife

  • working knowledge of first aid and triage

  • knowledge of state and federal laws pertaining to wildlife rehabilitation

  • most states require ‘The Basics’ class taught by IWRC (more below)

  • experience working with animals

Education Requirements

A college degree is not required, especially if you are working as a volunteer.

That said, having an understanding of ecology, animal behavior, wildlife diseases, and conservation techniques are things ever rehabber needs to know. We have an important job and need to communicate wildlife conservation to the public. So it is necessary to have a basic understanding and some experience working with animals.

Some rehabilitators are employees at parks, environmental education centers or zoos. A degree in wildlife biology or zoology is important for these career positions. Many parks, environmental education centers, and larger rehabilitation facilities offer internships. International Wildlife Rehabilitation Council (IWRC) has employment and internship listings on their website.

Working With a Veterinarian

Wildlife Rehabbers work with a veterinarian to establish good medical practices. And most important for their safety and the animal’s well-being rehabbers need to have an understanding of zoonosis. Zoonosis are diseases transmitted from animals to people. 

Wild animal babies need very specific care. I work closely with our vet to provide proper treatment. Many rehabilitators such as myself take classes in veterinary technology to learn important skills.

Some states require you to have a vet sign off on your paperwork stating that they will provide veterinary services for your wildlife center. In Kentucky, you must list your vet on your application.

Dr. Glaza giving an exam to one of our groundhogs.

Dr. Glaza giving an exam to one of our groundhogs.

What Is The Goal?

Our overall goal is to release the wildlife back into an appropriate natural habitat. We do not play with our wildlife. We want them to be ready for freedom from humans :)

We provide ways for our wild babies to learn skills. Things such as giving them opportunities to climb trees and dig in the ground. We buy natural foods such as minnows and put them in a bucket for the raccoon kits.


Wildlife Rehabilitators may start their own facilities. Some rehabbers work out of their garage. Here at Fox Run we have dedicated buildings for wildlife and have established ourselves as a 501c3 non – profit organization.

Other persons choose to volunteer for a wildlife rehabilitator. This person may or may not be licensed and comes in to assist on a mutually agreed-upon schedule. A volunteer for an environmental center or rehabber gets many of the positives without baring as much of the costs and liabilities.

Why I Love Rescuing Wild Animals

There are certainly many positives when being a wildlife rehabilitator. Rescuing an injured or orphaned baby and four-six months later watching that secure, healthy animal doing what nature intended – being wild and free. It’s a fabulous feeling. I find educating the public and sharing my love of wildlife with children is very rewarding. Rehabilitators play a crucial role in helping wildlife biologists track population and disease. I have worked on two national studies to track diseases and populations.


Some of the challenges rehabbers have are the cost and the time it takes. Wildlife infants, just like human infants, need frequent feedings and round the clock care. Baby wildlife require special baby formula, medical care and safe housing which requires money.

Many wildlife rehabilitators are volunteers and pay for at least some of these expenses out of their own pocket. Some states offer stipends and grants.

Some rehabbers become non-profits so that they may ask for donations and apply for grants.

Is It Legal?

Laws vary from state to state so it is important to check with your department of fish and wildlife or department of natural resources. It is illegal in all states to rehabilitate animals without the proper permits.

In Kentucky wildlife rehabbers are volunteers and by law must be licensed through the Kentucky Dept. of Fish and Wildlife. Each rehabber is required to take the class Basic Class in wildlife rehabilitation from IWRC plus classes for continuing education to become licensed. (NOTE: There will be a class offered in November 2019 in Bowling Green, KY)

Migratory birds fall under the licensing of the US Dept of Fish and Wildlife for all states and have additional requirements. 

One of our fabulous college interns at Fox Run EEC

One of our fabulous college interns at Fox Run EEC


I recommend that people volunteer with a licensed wildlife rehabber. That way you can get some first hand experience and decide if this is for you.

Ame is willing to mentor new rehabbers who are interested in mammals and reptiles. You can volunteer or just set up a Tour to learn more about what we do. Ame has worked with several colleges so that students may earn credits while working on an internship.