Wildlife rehabilitation centers take extra precautions against COVID-19 as animal research continues

RHINELANDER, Wisconsin (WSAW) – As many people begin to return to a more pre-pandemic normalcy, others must continue or even increase COVID-19 precautions. This is the case with wildlife rehabilitation centers, such as Wild Instincts in the Rhineland.

The center welcomes injured or orphaned wild animals. He can handle any species that is legally permitted to be cared for in Wisconsin. However, in the past year, wildlife centers have not been allowed to accommodate most species of bats, weasels, or felines. This is due to the expansion of research which has found that COVID-19 can easily be transmitted to and from these animals and to humans, with concerns that the disease could mutate along the way.

“One of the best ways to protect these individuals, populations, everyone’s health is to temporarily suspend all activities that may involve close interaction with humans and these animals,” said Amanda Kamps, health conservation specialist. Wildlife Department from the Department of Natural Resources. .

“The unfortunate part is that when someone calls, we have to tell them that this is a species that we cannot accept, we cannot help them, so we have two options. One is to let nature take its course and let her suffer and die if it does and the other would be to contact the DNR to see if they would come and euthanize her. Matt Naniot, director of rehabilitation at Wild Instincts, said.

He added that most people don’t think they can take any of these options and try to deal with them on their own, but Naniot said that most of the time people have a harder time. the animal because it was not cared for properly. The animal could also cure illnesses and harm the health of those caring for it, or vice versa.

Most of the research around COVID-19 has focused on its impact on humans. For animals, some are known about domesticated species, less about captive animals and even less about how they interact with species in the wild. Kamps said the DNR is not researching the impact of COVID-19 on various species, but is closely monitoring ongoing research around the world. Naniot urged wildlife rehabilitation centers to be a missed opportunity to be able to expand research and testing related to COVID-19 and its impacts on wildlife.

“When we talk about wild animal populations in the wild, trying to control a disease that is in a population like this is extremely difficult to almost impossible to do,” Kamps explained.

“Look what it was with people,” Naniot said. “And of course the wild animals aren’t going to wear masks, they’re just going to do their thing so that it can spread from animal to animal and it’s going to be extremely difficult to do. How are you going to vaccinate all these different animals that are in the wild? You are not. So, you could have a situation where you could have an outbreak with one species and you could lose an entire species or see its population drastically decrease. “

In the spring, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released general guidelines for caring for wild populations of large brown bats and deer. MRN has adapted this to accommodate existing regulations for these populations, ultimately allowing these species to be treated in rehabilitation centers, but with additional biosecurity protocols.

“In a normal year for the fawns, we’re just going to feed the fawns, but of course now we had to make our special quarantine hut here where we have dresses and things we hang here, we have slippers which we need to. put on a mask. We have to put on gloves. We have to put on glasses, so you look like a hazardous materials team, ”Naniot said.

Centers had to submit documents to prove they were implementing these protocols before they could accommodate more deer and large brown bats, but Naniot said it was difficult as the warrants were issued about two weeks. before the birth of most fawns. There are about ten centers that take care of deer and as many brown bats. As of Wednesday, there were only three centers that focused on accommodating deer and two dealing with bats.

Naniot said that in their 11-year history, they had never reached the maximum capacity of their beast pen. They hit their max capacity in 10 days because they were taking deer from all over the state and some of the other centers that have requested to take deer are only taking deer from specific areas. He said they also had to euthanize some of the fawns in early spring because they didn’t yet have their protocols in place, and others whose owners were trying to take care of were not being cared for properly.

In addition to COVID-19 protocols, Naniot said it has also seen the economic and labor impacts of other companies over the past year. 24/7 operation requires many volunteer hours. They also haven’t been able to host the education and fundraising events they rely on to stay open. Naniot said rehabilitation centers, while viewed as an essential business, were not eligible for federal or state pandemic aid, and county and local governments were also not funding their operations.

For help with an injured or orphaned animal, volunteer, or support Wild Instincts, click here.

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