Being a Good Steward to Wildlife

VCS Milford
I have the good fortune of making an annual pilgrimage with my family to Cape Cod in the summer. Last summer I was on the beach and noticed an injured Sea Gull. Attempts were made to catch the bird, but he was too wily for that. The other sea gulls were beginning to appreciate that their comrade was injured and they were beginning to attack him. Gulls, being as they are, will attack injured birds and destroy them.  I called the local animal control office and to my surprise they took my call and very cheerfully aided me. I explained that I realized this was ‘only’ a gull, but it appeared that shortly the other gulls would gang up on our injured beach comber and do him in. Within a half an hour a member the Animal Rescue League of Boston was at the beach, equipped with nothing less than a wildlife rescue ambulance, fully equipped for the task at hand. Together, we caught the bird and confirmed that his wing was broken. I later found that this was the result of children throwing rocks. I again explained to the rescuer that I realized that sea gulls were probably not a high priority in the sea-life rescue world, but I hated to see the animal suffer. The young man was a little surprised. He replied, of course they would rescue the poor gull and its fracture will be repaired by a veterinarian and hopefully he would be released! An organized community of individuals working together to aide injured wild life, how cool.

What prompted me to recall that event last summer was something that happened a few weeks ago. Two young men came into the hospital explaining that they had an injured and very ill juvenile raccoon. They had called animal control for our county; they had called the Michigan Humane Society, area veterinarians, and the local nature center, all of which refused to aide the boys. Now I suspect that the reasoning for these responses was the following, First, raccoons are essentially the equivalent of rodents, a nuscence  and second they care communicable diseases that can be spread to humans and domestic animals. The difficulty I have with this philosophy is that this small creature was being left to suffer by these animal welfare advocates and two young people that were trying to do the right thing would be left to watch the animal suffer and die or worse, they may try to destroy the animal themselves.

I explained that I could not offer medical care to the raccoon because it may put my patients at risk, but that I could not allow it to suffer and would be able to examine it to be sure that it could not be released and, if it is suffering, euthanize the creature. The young men were relieved and the little coon was very ill and infested with maggots. We humanely euthanized him.

I will argue that we in Michigan have not remained focused on being good stewards to wildlife. Sure we have a department of natural resources, but let us recognize that they are advocates of hunting in Michigan, and animal population control, not caring for the wildlife within our state boundaries. Our state humane society, although very well funded, much like the Animal Rescue League of Boston, has no wildlife rescue system. And the net work of people that do rehabilitate animals are poorly funded and over taxed and they function for the most part autominously, not as an organized group. Many veterinarians, like myself, try to help, but unless facilities are set aside for wildlife away from our patients we risk exposing our patients to serious diseases.
Michigan is a great state, with beautiful waterways and wonderful outdoor vistas, very similar to Cape Cod. The challenge I see for us is to become better stewards of  our wildlife, to focus on and care for  one of the things that makes or state great, the wildlife. I am not saying that this is going to necessarily involve any significant expense, there are many of us out there that want to help. What we need is a humane organization  to step up and help weave us together, make a network of concerned veterinarians and rehabilitators. Maybe someone on the state level that would aide in refocusing the DNR to be more of an advocate of wildlife.

I am happy to report that last I heard, that poor little sea gull is back on the beach, filling his ecological niche no matter how valuable or disposable we might think it is.


Posted on August 01, 2009
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