Become a Wildlife Rehabilitator: Education & Requirements

If you have a passion for the care of animals and are particularly interested in preserving wildlife, read on to gain an understanding of a career as a wildlife rehabilitator. Learn about the necessary education and requirements for wildlife rehabilitators to see if this career is the right fit for you. Schools offering Biology degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

Career at a Glance

Wildlife rehabilitators provide treatment and care to injured, orphaned, displaced or unwell animals from the wild. They care for them until the animal is strong enough to be released back into the wild. Wildlife rehabilitators work with many species so they need to gain knowledge on the nutritional requirements, behavioral patterns, physiology and caging requirements for different animals. The table below provides an overview of the education, skill-set, salary and job outlook for a career as a wildlife rehabilitator

Degree Required High school diploma or GED minimum; associate's or bachelor's degree preferred
Education Field of Study Biology
Animal science
Ecology
Wildlife management
Zoology
Training On-the-job training
Certification and Licensure License required
Key Skills Compassion, attention to detail, patience, integrity, problem solving skills, public speaking
Median Salary (2017) $23,160 (Animal care and service workers)*
Job Outlook (2016-2026) 22% (Animal care and service workers)*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)

What Does a Wildlife Rehabilitator Do?

A wildlife rehabilitator works with a veterinarian to identify illnesses, examine and determine any injuries, manage wounds, provide necessary vaccinations, clean animals, prepare food, clear cages, re-accustom animal to the wild, provide public education about protecting wildlife and may help in resolving human and animal conflicts. They refer animals to veterinarians when an animal requires more advanced treatment and care. They may perform administrative tasks such as record-keeping, accounting and budgeting. Often rehabilitators work for a non-profit organization, which will typically depend on donations, so they are often required to participate in fundraising. A wildlife rehabilitator my also get involved in research on wildlife, which may be organised by the facility or a university.

How Do You Become a Wildlife Rehabilitator and What Skills Are Required?

In order to become a wildlife rehabilitator you will need to have obtained a high school diploma or GED at a minimum. However, the National Wildlife Rehabilitators Association (NWRA) recommends prospective wildlife rehabilitators acquire an associate's or bachelor's degree in biology, ecology, animal science, zoology, veterinary medicine or wildlife management. By obtaining a degree you will have the knowledge to provide care to wildlife, understand the issues with human and animal interactions and will have an edge in a field growing with increasing popularity. As a wildlife rehabilitator you will typically have to work under a veterinarian's guidance. You will need to be a quick thinker, be detail orientated and have a passion for animals to have a successful career. Most wildlife rehabilitators learn their skills from gaining experience on the job, so gaining experience through internships and volunteering at wildlife rehabilitation centers can help improve your employability.

What Are the Certification and Licensure Requirements for a Wildlife Rehabilitator?

In order to to become a wildlife rehabilitator you will need to acquire the relevant legal permits. Before receiving your license you may be required to demonstrate a specific amount of time in on-the-job experience, complete specialized training, pass an examination, obtain sponsorship or mentorship from a veterinarian or pass a facility inspection. You can become licensed by state and/or federal agencies, and each state differs in licensure requirements so you will need to check your individual state's requirements.

How Much Does a Wildlife Rehabilitator Earn?

Based on national salary data compiled by the BLS, animal care and service workers, which also include wildlife rehabilitators, earned a median salary of $23,160 annually in 2017. More specifically non-farm animal care and service workers earned a median salary of $22,880 a year in 2017. Also according to the BLS, the lowest-paid 10% of workers in this field made less than $17,880 annually, while the highest-paid 10% made more than $36,630 a year. As rehabilitation centers often work around the clock, it is likely you may work evening and night shifts as well as regular day shifts.

What Is the Career Outlook and Carer Advancement Opportunities for a Wildlife Rehabilitator?

The BLS anticipates that animal care and service workers, which include wildlife rehabilitators, will realize a 22% increase in job opening between 2016 and 2026. This is far greater than the national average for all occupations, which sits at 7%. With additional education and training a wildlife rehabilitator may progress to become a veterinarian, veterinary director, wildlife rehabilitation manager, wildlife educator or an animal hospital manager.

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