Doctoring Colorado’s Wildlife

SPRINGFIELD, Colo. – As the population in Colorado increases, the number of injured and orphaned animals discovered by people each year has been climbing. When people become sick or injured, they can go to the doctor for treatment. Where do the animals go for treatment?

“Wildlife rehabilitation” is the process of providing expert care to injured and orphaned animals to increase the chances of survival once they are released back to the wild. The areas of biology, medicine, diseases, caging, animal release, and wildlife laws all come into play when working as a rehabilitator.

Properly caring for wildlife requires expert technical skills, special diets, animal specific cages and supplies. Wildlife rehabilitation requires a great deal of time. Some weakened animals, especially newborns, require care every few hours.

“Because wildlife is the property of the state, wildlife centers require special licenses to legally possess wildlife,” said Aaron Bartleson, a Colorado Parks and Wildlife district wildlife officer from Springfield. “Any native wild animal in captivity, even if just for temporary rehabilitation, remains under the authority of the state,” he said.

Depending on the type of facility, both a state license and a permit from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service are required for rehabilitating all but a couple species of birds.

There are about 100 licensed wildlife rehabilitators in Colorado. Most are small home-based operations that can only handle a few animals at a time. There are ten full-time dedicated rehabilitation centers in the state. Those ten centers generally rehabilitate larger numbers of animals than home-based rehabilitators.

Regulations require that rehabilitators provide training for unlicensed people helping with direct animal care, whether volunteers, interns or seasonal staff. Some centers specialize in only one type of animal; others can care for more than one species.

The Nature and Raptor Center of Pueblo is a wildlife rehabilitation facility that specializes in birds of prey. Each year hundreds of orphaned and injured hawks, owls, kites, falcons and eagles are brought to the facility from the southeastern region of Colorado.

Another center specializing in raptors is the Ellicott Wildlife Rehabilitation Center. The center moved from Littleton to Ellicott in 2002.

Both centers are non-profit facilities that rely on donations to keep afloat. Funding comes from donations, grants, memberships and special events.

So what should you do if you find an injured animal? Colorado Parks and Wildlife has an organized group of trained volunteers that can assist in the transportation of some animals, including raptors.

If an injured or orphaned bird of prey is found, please contact your local Colorado Parks and Wildlife office or local wildlife officer immediately. It is crucial that the animals be transported as quickly as possible as this greatly increases their chance of survival.

Injured birds that manage to make it to a rehabilitation facility are provided expert care by the staff with the hope that they may someday be released back into the wild. About 50 percent of the birds will be released. Unfortunately, some of the birds might not make it. Others, with special disabilities will remain at a center for continued care and may someday become a vital part in educational programs for the public.

The Nature and Raptor Center of Pueblo offers programs for all ages that can be conducted on-site or at other locations such as schools. Over 8,000 schoolchildren attend educational programs each year hosted by the Nature and Raptor Center. Additionally, the Center is open year-round to the general public for both educational and recreational opportunities.

A list of rehabilitation centers in Colorado can be found by following this link:

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