Wildlife Rehabilitator Careers: Salary Info & Job Description

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Get the truth about a wildlife rehabilitator's salary, training requirements and career prospects. Read the job descriptions and see the pros and cons of becoming a wildlife rehabilitator.
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Pros and Cons in a Career as a Wildlife Rehabilitator

Wildlife rehabilitators usually work for rescue and rehabilitation centers helping sick or injured animals and educating the public about wildlife. Continue reading through the pros and cons tables below to learn more.

Pros of Becoming a Wildlife Rehabilitator
Faster-than-average job growth for non-farm animal care workers (15% from 2012-2022)**
Allows you to save animals who may die without intervention*
Includes a variety of duties (caring for animals, giving public presentations, managing other workers, etc.)*
Allows you to educate the public on the dangers of handling wild animals*

Cons of Becoming a Wildlife Rehabilitator
Lower-than-average pay (median income in May 2014 was about $20,000 for non-farm animal care workers)**
May work with severely injured animals on a regular basis*
Animal caretakers experience a higher-than-average injury rate due to aggressive animals**
Experience working with wildlife or licensure is usually a job requirement*

Sources: *National Wildlife Rehabilitators Association, **U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Career Information

Job Description and Duties

Wildlife rehabilitators help to rescue and save wild animals who have been injured or who are sick. A rehabilitator takes the animal back to the shelter or center where it is cared for until it is well enough to return to the wild. Most rehabilitation centers work hard to ensure all rescued animals are returned to the wild. As a rehabilitator, you must follow all laws and regulations regarding the handling and care of wildlife. Most jobs are found in populated areas where wildlife and people interact often.

The typical job duties you may have include caring for animals, assisting with medical care, picking up animals that have been found, seeking injured animals out in the wild and cleaning cages. Your job also involves duties not related directly to animal care, such as giving presentations to the public, talking with individuals about found wildlife, supervising other staff and completing paperwork.

Job Growth and Salary

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) doesn't report information on wildlife rehabilitators, but these professionals fall under the BLS category of animal care workers. The BLS projected a 15% job growth for this category from 2012-2022. The BLS reported the median annual wage for the category of non-farm animal care workers was $20,000. The 10th-90th percentile range earned $16,000-$34,000.

Career Skills and Requirements

A high school diploma is typically required to work as an animal caretaker. Experience is also important to employers. Since wildlife rehabilitation shelters and centers are non-profit, there are usually a large number of volunteer or unpaid internship positions available, which can help you to gain the necessary experience. Licensing or holding a permit is also mandatory, since every state and the federal government requires licensing to work with wildlife. States usually only have experience requirements that must be met to become licensed or get a permit. Personal qualities and skills needed to work in this field include:

  • Communication skills
  • Ability to work as part of a team
  • Physical strength and agility
  • Concern for the well-being of wildlife

Job Postings from Real Employers

Employers were looking for wildlife rehabilitators to handle various duties, such as feeding animals, maintaining records and teaching education classes. All employers required proper licensing or permits prior to being hired. Here are some real job postings from April 2012:

  • A wildlife rescue center in New York was looking for a wildlife care technician who would be responsible for tasks such as restraining animals, organizing medical records, managing wounds, transporting animals and administering fluids. The job called for handling birds and mammals of various sizes, the ability to lift over 40 pounds and the ability to work well with others. A basic knowledge of local wildlife was preferred, and applicants were expected to be able to work weekends and evening shifts.
  • A rehabilitation center in New York advertised for a rehabiliator who would be responsible for cleaning up after and feeding animals, as well as keeping medical records and educating children in wildlife and nature subjects. The candidate was expected to be licensed in rehabilitation of animals through the NY State Department of Environmental Conservation and in the rehabilitation of migratory birds through the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
  • A rehabilitation center in Florida was looking for a wildlife rehabilitator who would perform administrative, transportation and rehabilitation tasks, including handling, feeding, cleaning and medicating mammals, birds and reptiles. For this position, management skills and a relevant college degree were preferred.

How to Stand out in the Field

Experience is the main requirement that employers want to see in job candidates. To gain experience, you may volunteer or complete an internship at a wildlife rehabilitation center. Other ways to gain experience include networking with others in the industry or becoming a member of a professional wildlife rehabilitation organization. You may also gain knowledge and experience that can help you secure a job through talking with people who work in the field and attending conferences or training sessions in wildlife rehabilitation.

While not required, a degree in a subject like biology, ecology or wildlife may also help you stand out as an aspiring wildlife rehabiliator. According to the National Wildlife Rehabilitators Association, a degree could give you an advantage in the field by providing you with experience in animal care and a deeper understanding of the environment.

Other Careers to Consider

Veterinary Technician

If you're interested in working with animals in a position that still requires relatively little education but that makes more money, you may consider becoming a veterinary technician. These professionals only require the completion of an associate's degree program in veterinary technology, and veterinary technicians and technologists earned a median annual salary of $30,000 in 2011, according to the BLS. Technicians work in veterinary offices, helping veterinarians observe, test, diagnose and treat a variety of animals, including cattle, cats, dogs, birds, reptiles and rats.

Wildlife Biologist

If you're interested in helping animals through research and scientific studies, which could impact environmental policies and conservation laws, you may consider becoming a wildlife biologist. With a bachelor's degree in a biology or wildlife related field, you can begin a career as a wildlife biologist, although many positions require master's or doctoral degrees. In this job, you study wildlife to learn the characteristics and habits of the environment. The BLS projected a seven percent job growth from 2010-2020. In May 2011, the BLS reported a median annual wage of $57,000 for zoologists and wildlife biologists.

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