Last month I had the privilege to put my wildlife rehabilitation skills to work with four infant cottontail rabbits. I received my rehabilitator license through the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation about a year ago, but haven't had much activity. Suddenly I'm receiving more and more calls from people regarding injured birds and rabbits.
These four furry friends were more than a test of my skills; they also taught me how to be patient with feeding and letting nature take its course.
The rabbits were about two weeks old, judging by their size, and were found abandoned in a residential area. It was an emotional experience, because in the first two days, three of my bunnies passed away, but the lone rabbit that survived proved to me he was ready to be reintroduced to the wild.
One of the main tenets of wildlife rehabilitation is to maintain minimal human contact with the animal. I can see the reasoning behind it, but it was quite difficult when I wanted to feed the every two to three hours each day. I had no choice but to hold him and make sure he ate his food.
While I attended to feeding him and making sure he was warm, I inevitably grew attached to him. There is something so special about caring for a wild animal, and knowing that very soon you will have to release it to its natural habitat. Since I grew up watching "Free Willy" and "Flipper," I have always been the type to "talk" to animals and show emotion toward them. I was very discouraged when only a quarter of my animals made it through rehabilitation. But to step aside from the statistical aspect of this field, I see that one bunny as my small contribution to saving wildlife.
I've heard stories of animals remembering people who cared for them, but I have yet to visit the woods where I let my adorable friend go free. When I walked to the woods with my small friend in a covered box, he was very reluctant to hop away. He looked around at the immense trees and plenty of deer and rabbit dens, and then looked at me, seeming to say, "You mean I have to find my own food?" But soon enough, he hopped towards a tall maple that had a thicket growing around it and made his way to safety. All I can do is know that I used my knowledge to the best of my ability and my efforts helped a rambunctious bunny hop into the wild.
Photo: Katherine Bailey