The Learning Curve

My name is Danny Aiuto. You may know me as a former outreach extern who posted three blogs in spring 2015. In the summer I applied for the rehabilitation externship and was accepted. The past three months have been an incredible experience.

I have had experience caring for animals -- caring for neighbors’ pets and helping care for cheetahs at the Smithsonian’s Biology Institute at Front Royal, Virginia. While at the Wildlife Center, I came to understood more of what it is to work full time as a caregiver for multiple kinds of animals.

From preparing meals and sorting blankets, to cleaning pens and creating enrichment; from exercising eagles and syringe-feeding baby rabbits, to soaking turtles and releasing fawns and songbirds, I embraced what all people who work hard to save wildlife do.

One of the most frequently asked questions that I get from guests and co-workers is one I’m sure anyone in this field is asked – What is my favorite task?

In honesty … that is a hard question. Every task had its own thrill.

For instance, exercising owls, hawks, kestrels and eagles was a task that required me to walk up to the birds so they would fly to the other side of the enclosure. The goal was to see how well they are flying and perching to determine how healed they are and how close they are to being released. The joy in that task was that I played a part in giving the animals’ strength back and guiding them on the road to freedom.

Another task is feeding baby squirrels. My fear of pressing on the syringe too hard and aspirating a squirrel diminished as I studied the squirrels’ feeding pace and my finger pressure. I would adjust the flow of the formula so that I would not feed the squirrel too quickly and cause it to aspirate, but I also learned not to go too slowly so that that the squirrel loses interest in feeding. Studying both of our behaviors made me feel at one with the squirrels, and soon I became familiar with what paces are appropriate based on the individual’s size and pace of suckling.

Even with my hardest task of care for the fawns -- cutting tree branches, delivering them along with sliced apples and pellets, removing eaten branches, searching fawns for signs of injury or illness, and emptying and refilling water bowls -- I still found enjoyment watching the fawns as they played and rested in their own juvenile herds.

A wildlife rehabilitator’s job caring for many animals is a huge responsibility that requires a lot of attention and perseverance, but the rehabilitation staff is dedicated to supporting the interns, externs, and volunteers and helping them understand each task so they can gain the experience they seek and enjoy themselves. That has worked for me.

I remember how hard every task was when I started, and how quickly I adjusted to the daily tasks. I had experiences I’ll never forget and I discovered a lot about myself. And it is all thanks to the support of my instructors and my fellow externs with whom I shared this honorable duty.

WCV Class of 2015