Highlights from the NJAWR 2009 Annual Conference

The NJAWR annual conference was held on Saturday, March 21, at Princeton University. This year’s theme, Wildlife Rehabilitation Appeals to Humanity, opened with keynote speaker John Satta from AlphaPoint, Inc. John helped us refocus on the one species that collectively benefits the most from our efforts—humans—and how to hone our skills as wildlife advocates to appeal to this species’ humanity.

Following the keynote speech, we received an illuminating update on the NJ Wildlife Rehabilitation program and wildlife intakes from Amy Wells, a Standards and Procedures Technician and the Wildlife Rehabilitation Program Coordinator for the Division of Fish and Wildlife. The average age of a wildlife rehabilitator is now 57. The past 10 years have seen a steady decline in the number of individual rehabilitators in NJ. Today, 3% of total intake is handled by individuals and 94% is handled by non-profits and government agencies. Who is mentoring the next generation of rehabilitators? Analysis shows that most mentors are individuals, and concerns include the ability of these individuals—who may lack the support system of a larger facility—to provide leadership not only in rehabilitating wildlife but also in working professionally with the public and gaining experience in raising the necessary funds. Currently, 80% of the wildlife are handled by 20% of the rehabilitators. What can we do to interest more people to become a rehabilitator and ensure they learn the skills necessary to remain viable?

We then broke off into individual sessions. As always, it was tough to choose which concurrent ones to attend! Topics this year included:

“The Stuff They Didn’t Teach You in Rehabilitation School” track – This track consisted of four interactive sessions that focused on developing short- and long-term goals, breaking down plans into practical and manageable steps, how to get the work done while maintaining your sanity and sense of humor, tips for leading a championship rehabilitation team, and ways to deal with the public and obtain funds.

Radiology overview – How much information about radiology can you pack into two hours? Quite a bit! This session included a brief overview of the technology, when to take a radiograph, how to restrain and position an animal for an effective image, and actual case studies that tested our investigative skills. (How did that small animal swallow such a large bolt??)

Educational outreach programs – You’ve been tasked with educating a room full of young faces about the natural world around them. Where do you start, and how do you capture—and keep—their attention? This workshop provided lots of tips and examples of programs you can easily adapt to your own needs and age group.

White Nose Syndrome update – WNS is deadly to bats, has spread to sites in NJ and PA, and is poorly understood. This session described the studies that are currently underway to learn the possible causes of this condition, its physiological and clinical effects on bats, and energy expenditure associated with hibernation.

The shell game – This wildly fun and informative session covered turtle anatomy, handling techniques, exam priorities, fluid therapy, euthanasia, release criteria, shell repair, ear abscesses, pain management, and salvaging and incubating eggs. All in an hour, you say?

Medical math – For all of us with decimal point phobia or real fear of accidental overdoses, this session made math fun (well, almost). Within minutes, we were calculating fluid amounts, determining kilo-calorie needs, and figuring an accurate drug dose.

When rabbits go bad – Dealing with the public is not always easy and sometimes leads to surprises—not necessarily pleasant ones. In this session, a rehabilitator described how easily animal intakes (in this case, juvenile rabbits) can go wrong in the hope that her experience will help us prepare ahead for the possibility of a nasty public encounter.

Parvovirus outbreak – A rehabilitator shared her experience with how a feline parvovirus outbreak had devastating effects on her raccoon patient population and what she learned about recognizing early symptoms, effectiveness of treatments, and importance of quarantining procedures in preventing future outbreaks.

The day ended with an informative discussion of how to prepare our avian, mammalian, and reptilian patients for release including such factors as physical condition, behavior, and proper caging.

Just prior to our own release from the conference, we readied ourselves for the upcoming busy season with raffle goodies. Have a great season, everyone!