Brie Hashem was a wildlife rehabilitator (with a Black Bear focus) at the Wildlife Center of Virginia from August 2016 - May 2019. At the Center, wildlife rehabilitators are responsible for admitting patients, feeding and maintaining proper nutrition of all animals at the Center, evaluating patients for release, maintaining proper enclosures dependent upon species, teaching online and in-person classes and courses, and providing hands-on training to dozens of veterinary and rehabilitation students each year. We asked Brie to share some perspectives on being a bear rehabilitator.
What’s your background? How did you become a wildlife rehabilitator?
I earned my Bachelor of Science in Environmental Resource Management. After school, I was working in water quality but wanted to go to graduate school so that I could specialize in wildlife. I started volunteering at a bird rehabilitation facility (Tri-State Bird Rescue & Research) to gain wildlife experience for my graduate school applications. When a position opened at the bird rehabilitation facility, I quit my salaried-with-benefits water quality position to make minimum wage and work every weekend as a wildlife rehabilitator! I did eventually use the experience for my graduate school applications and continued to work as a wildlife rehabilitator while earning my Master of Natural Resources degree.
What has surprised you most about caring for bears at the Wildlife Center?
How food-motivated they are! They definitely think with their stomachs. This allows for fun food-related enrichment in captivity but can get them into trouble in the wild with trash cans, grills, or outdoor pet food.
My favorite bear-related memory is bottle-feeding three new cubs at 10 pm in 2017. Most of the rest of the staff had gone home for the night. The Center was quiet, and I got to enjoy just how special that moment was.
What’s your advice for people who want to work in the wildlife rehabilitation field?
Volunteer! It’s a great way to get your foot in the door and see if you want to work in the field. You’ll quickly learn how much hard work goes into successfully rehabilitating a single patient.