Treating and caring for wildlife causes many challenges and difficulties for everyone involved. It is often a long process that is not only expensive but can also be very time consuming for a veterinary team (Kirkwood & Best, 1998).Treating and caring for wildlife can be difficult from capture to release as wild animals naturally shy away from human contact, making treatment challenging (Cooper, 2003). In addition, wild animals become severely and dangerously stressed when captured and held in a confined space. Further to these challenges in working with wild animals veterinary staff must be aware of legislation and abide by it in order to treat wildlife safely (Kirkwood & Best, 1998). Of course when taking on wildlife cases laws are not the only thing to be considered, in addition the costs of caring for the animal for the duration of treatment as well as any problems that could arise need to be thought out. Finally the veterinary team must always consider the ethical dilemmas they may face when treating injured wild animals. Facing ethical dilemmas with wildlife is often complex and the right solution is often not clear (Cooper & Cooper, 2006). Some people are of the opinion that humans should not interfere in wildlife and let nature take its course. They argue that the death of some animals is merely part of natural selection and should not be tampered with. A further more popular opinion is that any suffering that can be prevented should be. These people argue on welfare grounds that it is inhumane to let an animal suffer (Cooper & Cooper, 2006). Furthermore, some people are of the opinion that humans should only interfere if the damage to the animal was caused by people and not natural causes. Therefore, as much as it is necessary, perhaps even an obligation to treat wildlife, it does present veterinary professionals with a wide range of challenges (Cooper & Cooper, 2006).By looking at an individual case of a wildlife casualty, in this case that of a badger, and exploring the events surrounding a particular species from capture to release and all that is required for this to be successful, the difficulties faced in treating wildlife and why this is important will become more clear.
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Species: Meles meles European badger
Weight: 10 kg
History: Adult male badger found unconscious by the side of the road by a passing motorist.
Meles meles more commonly known as the European badger is a species of badger that belongs to the Mustelidae family and is native to most parts of Europe (Owen, 2011). The European badger has a strong build and black and white markings; it has a small head with a short body and small tail. The weight of this badger can vary dramatically between seasons, in spring the European badger can weigh anything between 7-13kg however in autumn this changes dramatically to up to 17kg before their winter hibernation (Owen, 2011). Badgers are nocturnal and spend this time hunting and socialising in their setts. Setts are made up of a number of tunnels and burrows where an entire badger family will live (Owen, 2011).The badger’s paws are digitigrade and short, it has five toes on each paw. Their claws aid them in digging due to being strong elongated with an obtuse end (Owen, 2011). They have muscular and flexible snouts perfect for digging and probing the ground for food. Male badgers are known as Boars and have broader heads thicker necks and narrower tails than the female (Owen, 2011).The female badger is known as a Sow, females have narrower heads and fluffier tails. Badgers have a long gut which is due to their omnivorous diet. Their small intestine is on average 17.5 ft and does not have a cecum (Owen, 2011). Badgers have a large skull which is heavy and elongated. Badger adults have a substantial sagittal crest which has been known to grow to 15mm (Owen, 2011).The thickness of this crest is what protects the badger from heavy blows. They have large canine teeth, with smaller chiselled incisors and ordinary carnassials. The badger has exceptional scent glands located under the tail; the subcaudal gland secretes a fatty white coloured substance which has a slight smell. The anal glands however secrete a much more prominent smell coming from yellow-brown fluid (Owen, 2011).
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Badgers brought in with severe injuries and wounds should be treated immediately, however the decision to fully treat the animal or euthanize must be made quickly (Cooper, 2003). The badger’s age, body condition, injuries, wounds and the prospects the animal faces, chances of survival and successful release must be taken in to account and carefully considered (Aspinall, 2012). The badgers age is always first to be considered, this is easily determined by considering the attrition of the incisors, premolar and molar teeth which are all seen in geriatric badgers. If these badgers also show signs of emaciation which is severe weight loss in addition to serious wounds the decision to euthanize would be made considering the animals welfare (Aspinall, 2012). It is up to the veterinary surgeon and nurse to come to a decision on the badgers overall body condition and chances of survival (Aspinall, 2012). Badgers that are young and healthy with large wounds have the best chance of survival and can be successfully treated. However a geriatric badger that is underweight and suffers from parasites such as worms may have issues with immune-suppression on top of being malnourished (Meredith, 2011).However, severely infected wounds, and wounds where there is a very large skin deficit, are unlikely to heal quickly; and may result in the badger being treated for long periods - sometimes as long as one month (Meredith, 2011).Vets and rescuers need to realise that the chances of a successful return of the badger to its home clan diminish with time; and some extensive non-lethal wounds may prove so time-consuming to treat and heal; that euthanasia may be a humane early consideration. Badger rescuers and vets need to consider the Abandonment of Animals Act 1960, which makes it an offence to abandon an animal in such a way that it is likely to suffer unnecessarily (Kirkwood & Best, 1998).
Table 1 shows possible injuries the veterinary team could face and where to go from there.
ROAD TRAFFIC ACCIDENT
Fractures, ruptured diaphragm, ruptured liver or spleen, disorientation, shock, head injury
Examine and take x-rays
Treat for shock, temporary splints for breaks, Pain Relief, Re-assess once stable
Animals that have been in road traffic accident almost always suffer from shock (Meredith, 2011). It is important to warm the animal up to stop it losing heat using blankets and a heat lamp. Give the animal IV fluids and oxygen where required (Cooper, 2003). Medication should then be given as appropriate. Next treat any injuries or conditions that could be life threatening or worse in the coming 24 hours. Check the animal every few hours, as soon as the animal is totally stable it should be sedated and thoroughly examined (Meredith, 2011).
Suitable accommodation for the badgers must then be arranged if it is to be treated within the veterinary practice (Aspinall, 2012). Housing for a badger is similar to that of a medium sized dog. The housing for a badger should be kept in as quite a place as possible, isolation is ideal as the badger will be undisturbed by other animals (Aspinall, 2012). A cover should be placed over the font of the kennel in order to reduce light. Badgers are nocturnal therefore excessive light is distressing to them (Aspinall, 2012). The kennel should be lined with thick newspaper and some bedding at the back, there should be enough newspaper, shredded paper and bedding for the badger to bury itself in. In order to keep the badger warm it is best to use a heat lamp, a heat pad with wired will soon be chewed (Aspinall, 2012). For feeding the injured badger use strong metal bowls, ceramic bowls can end up smashed and plastic will be chewed. A water bowl should be placed in a corner where it is as stable as possible. Due to being nocturnal badgers should be fed late in the day (Aspinall, 2012). Badgers are happy to eat normal cat or dog food, however the ones with gravy should be avoided as it will affect the badgers faeces (Aspinall, 2012). Chicken and most meats will also be eaten quite happily. It is normal for a captured and injured badger to refuse to eat the first few days in practice, unless the badger is emaciated or dehydrated it should not be forced to eat or drink (Aspinall, 2012). If it is necessary to make the badger it then something sweet can be added on top of the food for example peanut butter or jam. The badger’s kennel must be cleaned daily. In order to make this as stress free for both the badger and the nurse it is advised that the nurse make up one corner of the kennel with new bedding and newspaper then wearing protective gloves remove the bedding under which the badger is hiding, as soon as the cover is removed the badger will run for the nearest cover in the opposite corner, this allows the nurse to clean the kennel without too much stress to the animal (Aspinall, 2012).
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All British Wildlife is protected under the “Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981” (Cooper & Cooper, 2006).Although there have been a number of changes to the act over the years including the nature and conservation Scotland act of 2004, remains crucial to the protection of wildlife in the whole of the UK. The act describes in great detail laws and offenses regarding the killing and removing of wild animals from their natural environment (Cooper & Cooper, 2006). There are different schedules within this act for different species depending on how much protection they need. Badgers fall under schedule 6 which means they cannot be killed or taken from their setts which are also protected under “protection of Badgers act 1992” (Kirkwood & Best, 1998). Under this act it is a criminal offense to remove a badger from its sett, harm a badger in any way, take a badger for possession or to sell. Under extreme circumstances specific people are allowed to carry pout acts that would be considered breaking the law such as badger culling, or to prevent the spread of TB to humans (Cooper, 2003).
Individual badgers come into care for a variety of reasons. Adults are usually injured due to road accidents, being caught in snares or from bite wounds. The process of rehabilitation provides an opportunity for healthy badgers to be released back into the wild, particularly if the badger comes into care through the result of human activity, such as being injured in a snare (Stocker, 2005). A secondary reason for rehabilitating badgers relates to conservation, in repopulating areas of low badger density that arise from previously high levels of persecution (Meredith, 2011). Removing a badger from an area can result in major changes for the ecology of other species. For example the numbers of foxes increases without badgers which in turn lead to a massive decrease of in other species such as hares do you have a reference to support this (Stocker, 2005).The area they are released in must be very specific and a lot of consideration is needed prior to release. The area must be a suitable place for release; this should include a good food supply and banks for digging setts. If there are no badgers present there will be a reason so this requires a lot of consideration. It is crucial that adult badgers are released in the exact location they were found as this will be within their territory and there will be little disruption (Aspinall, 2012).There are risks involved in releasing a badger just anywhere, if there is already a badger group in the area the released badger could be attacked, injured or killed ultimately doing more harm than good (Aspinall, 2012).
Therefore it can be concluded that taking on a wildlife case within the veterinary practice requires a lot of time, energy, costs and resources. Wildlife treatment requires a lot more attention and does create all manner of problems from housing to rehabilitation to release. Above all it is human nature to prevent suffering of any kind and therefore it is unrealistic to consider not treating wildlife. Taking in to account moral obligations and laws helps the veterinary team come to an informed decision which is ultimately the right one for the individual animal. Rescuing, treating and rehabilitating a badger is not an easy task and unless the veterinary surgeon sees a good chance of survival and re-release the best solution is often euthanasia. Especially in the case of road traffic accidents the outlook for survival is often so minimal that the decision to euthanize is taken swiftly to end the animals suffering. As a member of the veterinary team it is an obligation to know about common wildlife species and what could be brought in to the clinic. The veterinary team has an obligation to treat all animals even rare ones, therefore it is crucial that proper procedures are followed to ensure the most appropriate outcome for the wild animal.
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Cooper, J. & Cooper, M. E., 2006. Ethical and legal implications of treating casualty wild animals. In Practice.
Cooper, J. E. M. E., 2003. BSAVA manual of wildlife casualties. s.l.:s.n.
Kirkwood, J. & Best, R., 1998. Treatment and rehabilitation of wildlife casualties: legal and ethical aspects. In Practice.
Meredith, A., 2011. Wildlife Medicine and Rehabilitation. s.l.:Manson Publishing.
Owen, R., 2011. On the Anatomy of Vertebrates. 3: mammals ed. s.l.:Cambridge.
Stocker, L., 2005. Practical Wildlife Care. s.l.:Blackwell.