Wildlife Rehabilitation -- Is It an Art or a Science?

Wildlife rehabilitation -- is it an art or a science?

Now that is a question you don't hear very often. In fact, in all likelihood, this question probably makes no sense to you. Medicine is surely applied science, but how is it an art? I asked myself that question years ago when I first read the Hippocratic Oath in a philosophy course.

In these past twelve weeks, this question resurfaced while I observed and participated in the day-to-day operations here at the WCV. Now, I have always believed in the notion that the natural sciences, such as biology and medicine, were concerned with the physical, and were, therefore, measurable and truly empirical. Art, on the other hand, is concerned mostly with human feelings, ideas, and making connections that may not be immediately observable through empirical measurements. For the longest time, I believed in the simplistic assumption that the body is just a machine and that any given ailment can be treated through formulaic processes just as a part of a machine can. However, wildlife rehabilitation is not so simple and dogmatic. Rather, it effectively combines aspects of veterinary medicine, animal husbandry, animal behavior, biology, and ecology. Beyond that, there seems to be another intangible aspect of wildlife rehabilitation that involves intuition, and the ability to see things on a larger scale. The key to rehabilitating wildlife isn't curing disease or raising healthy orphans. The key is the reintroduction of an animal back into the ecosystem. This necessitates a deeper understanding of the interconnections between individuals and between species.

This is where the science becomes art. I remember the feeling of amazement I had while observing an owl undergo an imping [feather transplant] procedure. I remember the feeling of transcendence that overcame me as I first watched a raptor being released into the wild. I saw in that moment how certain aspects of the relationship between humans and animals couldn't be taught -- they have to be shown. The feeling you get holding a baby squirrel as it nurses, the rush from catching a fawn, the grief from holding an injured songbird that you know cannot survive. I don't have the depth of vernacular to truly express the profound effects these experiences had on my understanding of wildlife rehabilitation. These emotions gave me glimpses into the beauty and fragility of nature that I couldn't have achieved any other way, and for that I am grateful. In the world of wildlife rehabilitation success is not measured by animals seen and animals released. It is measured by the number of lives and ecosystems changed, values that are not quantifiable but are sincerely felt.

--Peter
WCV Class of 2015