Wildlife watch: how VNs can help care for these animals in practice

Written by: Emma Onyejekwe
Published on: 15 Jan 2021


Pigeons are pretty resilient creatures.

I have always loved wildlife, but my interest in wildlife nursing has grown over the past year.

Throughout my studies, my dream to work abroad kept me motivated and excited about the future.

After qualifying in February 2019, I volunteered in South Africa, working with a wildlife vet and at a rhino orphanage. I had an incredible time and started to plan my next overseas project on my journey home.

Once I got back, I decided to book a five-week volunteering project in Vietnam and Thailand, where I would be working with pangolins, Asian elephants and various species of monkey. As the trip wasn’t until January 2020, I decided to volunteer closer to home in the meantime and spent a week at my local wildlife hospital in Surrey.

Prior to this, I had no experience working with British wildlife, apart from seeing the odd pigeon come into the practice. During my week at the wildlife hospital, I volunteered with the vet team and gained hands-on experience on how to triage, treat and rehabilitate wild animals. I learned pigeons are pretty resilient and can recover well from some injuries with good wound management.

I was amazed by some of the work being carried out at the wildlife hospital and the nursing skills that can be used when working with wildlife. The dedication and passion from all of the veterinary team sparked a new-found love for nursing British wildlife.

Blue tit fledgling

A blue tit fledgling found in the author's garden on a hot day during the first national lockdown.

Blue tit fledgling 2

A few hours later, after the author had given it some home-made rehydration solution, the fledgling flew off.

Putting time to use

After this experience, I decided to become a regular volunteer at the wildlife hospital. However, this was then interrupted by the first national lockdown in March 2020.

I was working as a locum vet nurse at the time and, as a result of COVID-19, found myself out of work. In a bid to keep on learning, I decided to use the time to increase my knowledge and signed up for an online advanced nursing programme in wildlife nursing.

To share what I had learned, I then decided to set up an Instagram account dedicated to sharing my love and knowledge for wildlife, with the hope that it will inspire others to do the same.

Last year was one of the busiest years for most wildlife rescue centres, and I had noticed other VNs regularly posting about wildlife coming into their practice during the spring. I believe there is no better time than now to encourage other veterinary professionals to learn more about wildlife nursing. A field I am incredibly passionate about, I have decided this is something I would like to focus on trying to improve.  

Having reflected on my experiences of wildlife within veterinary practices and how we approach wildlife casualties in general practice, I feel a lack of knowledge exists on how to deal with them, which sadly tends to result in euthanasia. I was keen to see if others felt the same and in April created a short survey to share with other veterinary nurses.

My survey was titled “Dealing with wildlife in the veterinary practice”, with 40 participants taking part. I included various questions to find out how confident people were, whether they had protocols in place, and if they would be interested in learning more about triage and emergency care.

Most were somewhat confident (42.5%) in dealing with wildlife and some not so confident (30%). The majority of people (47.5%) agreed that, due to a lack of knowledge in basic triage and emergency care, most of the wildlife that comes into practice is euthanised.

While it is good to read that most people do have wildlife protocols in place (32.5%) and contact their local wildlife rescue centre (25%), I feel the results of my survey show that more could be done to improve the overall care of wild animals.

As vets have a duty to provide first aid and pain relief to all species (paragraph 3.9 of the supporting guidance to the RCVS Code of Professional Conduct for Veterinary Surgeons), I feel it is important everyone is confident and knows what they can provide.

It is clear people are interested in learning more about triage and emergency care they can give (more than 80%), and this is an area that could be improved.


A fox in the author's garden during the first national lockdown.

What can we do to improve our knowledge?

I am not an expert in the field and I am not saying veterinary practices need to be specialists; however, some people are very knowledgeable and I believe we should all work together.

These people include those working at wildlife rescue centres. Most wildlife rescue centres that have a veterinary team present at the centre would be more than happy to advise on what to do with a wildlife casualty. I believe we should build a relationship with our local wildlife rescue centres. This will not only improve the care we can give, which will help our wildlife, but it will also improve our knowledge as veterinary professionals.

I have found various resources on dealing with wildlife casualties. These include webinars, textbooks, online courses and workshops. Remember, this can count towards your CPD.

If you had a trip booked to work with wildlife abroad, but this has been rescheduled or cancelled due to COVID-19, why not see if you can use that time to volunteer at your local wildlife rescue centre instead? Even if you did not have a trip booked, I would strongly recommend contacting your local wildlife rescue centre to see if it has any volunteer opportunities within its veterinary team. This will give you a lot of hands-on experience and it may even spark a love for British wildlife, as it has done for me.

For the full survey results, visit www.surveymonkey.com/stories/SM-GBP7M939

  • The author created this survey for her own interest and the questions were based on some ideas she had.