Why not let nature take its course?

This is a common and understandable question that wildlife rehabilitators receive. After all, death and disease are a very real, and important, part of the balance of the natural world.

For the most part, wildlife rehabilitators do not intervene when nature is running its course in a wilderness area. Although personal ethics vary by individual, most rehabbers intervene only when humans have played a role in an animal becoming injured or orphaned— like when a pet, lawnmower, gunshot, or vehicle is to blame. A wildlife rehabilitator will not typically save prey animals from their natural predators, for example.

But in some cases, it’s necessary for a rehabilitator to accept an animal even when its problems are natural. When rehabilitators refuse to accept an animal for intake based on principle, the person who found the animal will often choose to raise it themselves. This usually leads to a very long and painful death for the animal due to improper care, and can cause humans to be exposed to rabies and other very serious diseases. I will accept animals orphaned by natural causes in order to protect the animal from further harm by well-meaning people, and to protect the human finder from exposure to bites and disease.

Intervening is also often necessary as part of monitoring and controlling the spread of rabies. Much of my work— the unpleasant but necessary part— involves euthanizing sick animals and submitting their bodies to the USDA for rabies testing. This is a very important step in disease control and public safety, and also prevents sick animals from suffering horrifically painful deaths.

I do believe in allowing nature to take its course when reasonable. But I also believe that I have a duty to protect public safety and to prevent unnecessary suffering, and that is why I generally help whenever I am asked.

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