Yesterday must be right up there as one of the most interesting days this year. I got to spend the whole day at Vale Wildlife Hospital & Rehabilitation Centre near Tewkesbury. It was a one day course learning about hedgehog first aid, care & rehabilitation and the whole thing was fascinating!
The day started in the classroom with introductions – the other participants on the course included some experienced hedgehog carers, some planning on starting hedgehog rehabilitation and some who just loved the hedgehogs in their gardens and wanted to learn more.
Caroline, the charity founder, started with an overview of the legal issues surrounding wildlife rescue, which were much more complicated than I had realised. Then we had an introduction to some of the diseases/parasites that hedgehogs can suffer from; many of which can be transferred to humans, so careful hygiene is essential when handling hedgehogs (as it is with any animal).
We then ran through everything associated with the successful care and rehabilitation of hedgehogs. This covered everything from initial “is the rescue really necessary”, to examination & diagnosis, first aid, rehydration of dehydrated animals, feeding, care of hoglets, treatments of parasites and other diseases, common injuries, record keeping, rehabilitation & release and sadly euthanasia.
In the afternoon we had two practical sessions. First looking down a microscope to examine hedgehog poo for signs of parasites. Not as easy as it sounds and it must take a while to get your eye in with this. Second was practising giving subcutaneous fluids to a hedgehog. Obviously we couldn’t practise on a live animal, but we all got to have a go on a deceased individual (sad to think that not all the hedgehogs could be saved, but at least we got to learn something from a couple of those that didn’t make it). Dehydration is a major problem for many rescued hedgehogs, so learning to do this properly is vital for anyone considering their rehabilitation, but not something that should be tried without proper instruction.
The Vale Centre cares for all manner of wildlife, not just hedgehogs. As part of the course we got a guided tour of their facilities. Just seeing the scale of simple things like food prep or laundry (an awful lot of dirty animal bedding) really brought it home how much work they do. There is of course a lot of much more technical equipment, like this heated x-ray table.
Warmth is often a critical factor in the survival of the rescued animals, particularly for baby ones. Brooders such as this one, allow them to be kept constantly warm, until they are big enough to regulate their own body temperatures.
The small mammal and hedgehog wards are fitted out with row upon row of cages, each with their own patient records on clipboards, just as you would find in a human hospital.
Each animal patient has a unique identifying number and the staff record daily weights and observations, flagging up any that are cause for concern. Colour coded tabs allow instant identification of those needing fluids, or medication, or assessment, or samples etc.
While we were getting our tour a young squirrel was being syringe fed (although we were supposed to all be objective and unsentimental, a collective “awwh” went up in the room).
A more adult looking squirrel was either interested in the syringe food, or interested in us – not sure which.
Hedgehogs account for a large proportion of the animals admitted to Vale. Last year of the approximate 4500 animals admitted, over 1000 were hedgehogs. This year they look to be getting similar numbers and the wards certainly had plenty of hoggy patients. Of course being nocturnal animals most of them were fast asleep in their cages, burrowed into nests of shredded newspaper. But I did spot one venturing out of his sleeping chamber. The hedgehog cages are split into two connecting “rooms”, one a sleeping chamber and one for the food and water.
Birds account for about 70% of Vale’s admissions, many of them baby ones. A young sparrowhawk and a duck were admitted while we were there. These baby pigeons were just two in the indoor bird ward yesterday.
Outdoors there were yet more birds, from small birds like sparrows and pigeons, up to swans and gulls. All waiting to be strong enough to be rehabilitated – it is vital that they regain the strength in their flight muscles before being released.
Vale’s ethos is very much about rehabilitation. Animals are nursed back to health so that they can not only be released again, but be released with quality of life equivalent to what they would have naturally. If this can’t be achieved, then sadly euthanasia may be the only option.
There are one or two exceptions, such as this stunning European Eagle Owl. This bird is not native to Britain so cannot be released into the wild here.
And finally an unlikely looking trio of a fallow deer, an emu and a rhea, all of which will be living out their natural days at Vale.
Although our course was aimed primarily at hedgehogs, it was great to see some of the other work the centre does too. I would recommend this course to anyone considering caring for one or more hedgehogs. This and of course getting some practical volunteering experience with an already established hedgehog rescuer if you can.
When I was a little girl I wanted to be a vet, but was probably way too lazy to study hard enough. I realise now with hindsight that I probably wouldn’t have had the emotional strength to make a very good vet, even if I had worked hard enough. People who work with animals, like the amazing staff at Vale, have to care for the animals whilst at the same time making really difficult decisions on a day to day basis. It would be so easy to make choices for an animal to make the person choosing feel better, rather than thinking what is really right for the animal. The staff at Vale always put the interests of the animals first and I have huge respect for them.
To find out more about Vale Wildlife Hospital and the work they do, check out their website: http://www.valewildlife.org.uk/ Charities like this cost a fortune to run, but do such an amazing job – any and all donations would be very welcome.