by Amanda Newsom
Founded in 1999 by Michael Ellis, Atlanta Wild Animal Rescue Effort (AWARE) Wildlife Center is one of the few wildlife rehabilitation centers in Georgia. Their mission is to “rehabilitate injured and orphaned wildlife and to educate the public on how to peacefully coexist with our wild neighbors,” and they help upwards of 2,000 animals each year, which is pretty impressive. AWARE accepts any wild animal in need of help—such as owls, songbirds, turtles, snakes, deer, possums and bobcats—as long as they have the capacity to do so. If they’re unable to take an animal in, they can provide references to other organizations that may be able to help.
Recently, the center received a duck that had a four-pronged fish hook that had punctured through its lower bill and tongue. Under anesthesia, they were able to cut and remove the hook, and then they administered antibiotics and monitored the duck until it was able to eat and drink. Once its tongue was fully healed, AWARE released it back to the pond where it was found. Like this lucky duck, AWARE releases every animal that recovers in their care back to the wild.
Many local shelters get calls asking about wildlife they’ve found and what to do to help them, so we asked Scott Lange, Executive Director of AWARE Wildlife Center, about some of the tops questions they get. He said they get tons of calls from people who find fledgling birds on the ground, but this is actually part of their natural life cycle where they need a few days on the ground to learn how to fly.
They also get calls throughout the year from people who see animals like coyotes, foxes or raccoons in their yards. Lange says it’s important to remember that these animals pose no threat to you. “They only want food and safety, and people offer neither. Next, know that trapping or killing these animals—in addition to being cruel—is counterproductive, as it simply opens up territory for others of the species, spurring them to overbreed to take advantage. In short, removing these animals can leave you with more than when you started.”
One of the biggest takeaways from AWARE is that unless you can tell an animal is in distress or injured, the best thing to do is leave them be. They are wild animals and being in nature is what they do best! Sometimes attempts to help wildlife inadvertently lead to doing more harm than good.
If you want to help the wild animals at AWARE Wildlife Center, you can of course donate online at awarewildlife.org, as the organization relies on individual donations to purchase items like food and medical supplies. You may also consider volunteering—it’s a bit of a trek from the Athens area to their facility in Lithonia, but AWARE has volunteers who drive up to three hours for their weekly shift, so it sounds like it is worth the trip!
If you find an animal that truly needs your help:
- Always put your safety first, and be careful!
- After safely retrieving a hurt animal, confine them to a box or portable carrier, and put it in a dark, quiet room.
- Many injured animals need extra warmth, so you can put a heating pad under part of the carrier so they have both a warm and cool space to help regulate their body temperature.
- Contact a wildlife rehabilitation center such as AWARE to ask for advice.
- Don’t give food or water to an injured animal until you know what the next step will be for treatment according to professional advice.
Try to eliminate food sources outdoors, like accessible trash cans and pet food, to deter wildlife from coming onto your property if you perceive them as a nuisance.
Young wild animals are better off being left alone—their parents know the best way to care for them. When you hang around the babies wondering what to do next, you’re deterring the parent from returning to the area, which may prevent them for caring for their young. Unless you see a specific injury or witness something happening to the parent, leave them be and do not attempt to move them.
Leave it to the professionals. Rehabilitating wild animals should only be done by licensed organizations who have the knowledge and capabilities to give them the best chance at recovery.