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Introduction and General Information

For any wildlife casualty release back to the wild is the foremost aim. However there are some circumstances in which release is not appropriate.

Whilst there are occasional reports of animals surviving and breeding in the wild with severe disabilities, in general animals which are released with significant physical or behavioural disabilities are likely to be severely disadvantaged and have a greatly reduced chance of survival. The release of an animal with such a disability may be considered an offence under the Abandonment of Animals Act, 1960

Any of the following conditions are likely to preclude the release of the casualty back into the wild:

  • Blindness.
    • Depending on the species a partial or total loss of vision in one or both eyes may prevent release.
  • Loss of or significant reduction in wing function.
  • Loss of or significant reduction of function of a leg.
    • This may be less important for some birds, particularly those of lower body weight.
  • Loss of a hind talon or two other digits on the same foot in raptors.
  • Inability to urinate or defecate.
  • Permanent neurological disease.
  • Pelvic damage in a female mammal making normal parturition (birth) impossible.
  • Abnormal behaviour patterns.
    • Tame animals which may be a danger to the public.
    • Animals which lack natural behaviour patterns necessary to find food, escape predators etc.
  • Other criteria may apply depending on the species.

For most animals which cannot be released euthanasia is the most humane option. Further information on the circumstances in which euthanasia is appropriate and the applicability of different euthanasia techniques may be found in: Wildlife Casualty Euthanasia

An alternative which has a limited applicability is that the animal remain in permanent care. 

N.B. It must be acknowledged that although there are some cases in which almost all people would agree on the need for euthanasia, people will vary in their decisions in many cases, due to differing opinions regarding, for example, the level of treatment through which it is appropriate to put a wild animal, and the suitability or otherwise of available long-term accommodation.

(V.w5, V.w6, V.w26)

The option of "Permanent care"

  • "Permanent care" is used within this Wildpro module as an umbrella term and encompasses everything from a bat in a bat box to a flightless swan on a private or public park lake, whereby the animal has become "under our care" and we have acquired a responsibility for its health and welfare.
  • Any wild animal casualty which is not either released back into the wild or euthanased by definition remains in care. This implies a duty on the carer to ensure that the needs of the animal are supplied. 
  • Permanent care must be able to provide the animal with long term security which must fulfil the requirements of the "Five Freedoms":
    • Freedom from thirst, hunger and malnutrition.
    • Appropriate comfort and shelter.
    • Prevention, or rapid diagnosis and treatment, of injury and disease.
    • Freedom to display most normal patterns of behaviour.
    • Freedom from fear.
  • Permanent care facilities should be designed, maintained and run to high standards. It is recommended that the D15 - Secretary of State's Standards of Modern Zoo Practice and other guidelines on the long-term husbandry of animals in general and the relevant species in particular are consulted and followed.
  • The D27 - British Wildlife Rehabilitation Council Guidelines state that:

"The ethics of keeping a permanently disabled casualty should be assessed by each rehabilitator for each case, opinions may vary but the animal's welfare should be the overriding consideration. Provision should be made for the mental and physical well-being of any casualty kept permanently. Family groups may well be important for many species and territorial considerations should be taken into account, especially in the breeding season.

  1. Breeding should be avoided unless participating in a bona-fide breeding scheme.
  2. Permanent casualties should be assessed daily by a competent person and records kept on their diet, health and veterinary treatment.
  3. Accommodation for permanently disabled casualties should be a separate entity. Adequate space should be provided and the habitat enhanced to mimic the natural environment of the species, whilst allowing close monitoring and good standards of husbandry and veterinary care.
  4. All equipment should be exclusive to the unit and the highest standards of hygiene practised for the control of cross infection."

(B118.18.w18, B151, D15, D27, V.w5, V.w6, V.w26)

  • It is important to remember that it is an offence under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 to keep birds, or to keep other species listed in Schedule 5 of the Act in captivity if they are suitable for release. Careful and detailed record keeping is advisable to enable the carer to prove, if necessary, that there was just cause for an animal of a protected species to be taken/kept/killed. (P19.2.w1, J35.147.w1, B14, B142)
  • It is also important to remember that any collection containing non-domesticated animals which is open to the public for more than seven days a year requires a zoo licence under the Zoo Licensing Act 1981.(B156.21.w21)
  • Some species of animal which are found wild in the UK are listed in the Dangerous Wild Animals Act 1976 (as amended by The Dangerous Wild Animals Act 1976 (Modification) Order 1984). The Act requires licensing for the keeping of dangerous/exotic species listed in the 1984 Order at private premises. They include: Felis silvestris - Wild cat, Sus scrofa - Wild boar and the Vipera berus - Common viper (adder). The full list of species listed under the Act is not included the Wildpro "UK Wildlife: First Aid and Care" module and the legislation should be consulted. (B142.4.w4, B156.21.w21, J3.102.w11)

See: Wildlife Casualty Legislation - Keeping (holding) of Animals for further information on legislation applicable to wild animals in care.

Within the umbrella term of permanent care a number of options (which may be appropriate for different individual casualties) are discussed below:

  • Sheltered Accommodation.
  • Captive Breeding Centre. 
  • Educational Centre/Zoo.
  • Rehabilitation Centre.
  • Welfare Sanctuary. 

These are discussed below.

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Sheltered Accommodation

Accommodation within a large naturalistic area, such as a park, within which an animal which is given protection from its usual predators and can forage for normal foods.
  • It is important to remember that although daily husbandry such as feeding may not be required for animals in sheltered accommodation, responsibility for the health and welfare of an animal in sheltered accommodation remains with the carer.
  • Shelter from inclement weather may be provided by topographical features or natural vegetation within the area; these may be supplemented by artificial shelters as required.
  • Protection from predators is generally provided by the use of predator-proof fences or walls; for waterbirds the provision of an island in a body of water may be the main form of protection provided.
  • Animals in sheltered accommodation must be checked on a sufficiently frequent basis to ensure that they remain healthy.
  • The provision of additional food may be necessary, particularly in winter.
  • Certain forms of preventative medicine may be appropriate such as anthelmintics provided in supplementary food.
  • This type of permanent care may be appropriate for some animals which are behaviourally unsuitable for release to the wild.
  • This type of permanent care may be suitable for some animals which have a mild degree of permanent physical disability which allows normal foraging and an acceptable level of locomotion but would reduce the animal's chance of survival in the wild, for example by a reduced ability to escape from predators.
  • Sheltered accommodation is unlikely to be applicable for species with a lifestyle which is normally highly aerial in nature although it may be appropriate for certain birds which normally spend most of their life on the ground or water (e.g. waterfowl, pheasants, waders) whose injuries have made flight impossible.

(D27, V.w5, V.w6, V.w26)

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Captive Breeding Centre

Accommodation within a captive breeding and release programme for a rare/endangered species.
  • Organised captive breeding and release programmes are run for a limited number of rare UK species including red squirrels (Sciurus vulgaris - Eurasian red squirrel), hazel dormice (Muscardinus avellanarius - Hazel dormouse), water voles (Arvicola terrestris - European water vole) and harvest mice (Micromys minutus - Harvest mouse).
  • Hand-reared animals which may lack survival skills, and permanently disabled animals of such species, may be suitable for inclusion in such a programme.
    • For example it has been suggested that for hand-reared red squirrels it may be most appropriate for the animals to be placed into the captive breeding programme and their parent reared offspring included in future releases. (W163)
    • This would enable the descendants of the original animal to be returned to the wild. (W163)
  • Entry into captive breeding and release programmes is applicable for only a small number of species.
  • (The release of healthy rehabilitated animals of these species may also best be organised to take place in conjunction with such programmes).
  • Collaboration is critical for the success of captive breeding programmes to ensure genetic diversity and also to split breeding groups of animals between different sites, in order to protect against outbreaks of disease in one centre, or other disastrous effects. For this to be effective accurate records are imperative. (V.w6)
  • See also: Record Keeping - Captive Breeding

(D15, D27, V.w5, V.w6, V.w26, W163)

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Educational Centre/Zoo

In some circumstances animals which are unsuitable for release may be appropriately housed within a setting providing education, usually a zoo.
  • Any collection containing non-domesticated animals which is open to the public for more than seven days a year requires a zoo licence under the Zoo Licensing Act 1981.(B156.21.w21)
  • All UK Zoos must comply with the Secretary of States Standards of Modern Zoo Practice. The animal management sections of these guidelines are also appropriate to other establishments holding / caring for wild animals. (D15, V.w6)
  • Other relevant legislation regarding the display of wild animals must be complied with. For example if any animal included on Annex A of CITES is on display to the public for gain an Article 10 Certificate must be obtained; a zoo may obtain an Article 30 Certificate covering the display of all Annex A specimens in their collection. (D53)
  • This may be most suitable for animals which are physically fit but are behaviourally unsuitable for release.
  • Animals with a physical disability preventing release and which are of a sufficiently calm temperament may also be suitable for educational purposes.
  • It is important to ensure that the welfare of the animal is considered at all times and that the educational purposes, whether on display in an enclosure or being shown in the hand closely to the public does not stress the animal.
  • See also: Record Keeping - Captive Breeding

(B156.21.w21, D15, D27, D53, V.w5, V.w6, V.w26)

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Rehabilitation Centre

A limited number of animals which cannot be released may be housed within a rehabilitation centre: 
  • To provide companionship to casualties during care and rehabilitation;
  • To act as role models for hand-reared animals and thereby reduce the risk of imprinting of those animals on the wrong species; or
  • To rear orphaned animals for release.
  • (D53)

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Welfare Sanctuary

Accommodation in a sanctuary providing long-term care.
  • There are a number of premises providing permanent captive care facilities for casualty animals which are not suitable for release.
  • These centres undertake to provide accommodation, food, water, veterinary treatment etc. for the animals in their care for the duration of their lives. This care must include the provision of euthanasia for the animal if its condition becomes such that its quality of life is unacceptably low.
  • Such centres may or may not undertake care/treatment of casualty animals. The British Wildlife Rehabilitation Council Guidelines - D27 suggest that accommodation for animals in permanent care should be separate from accommodation used for animals being rehabilitated. 
  • It is important to consider whether a centre which both undertakes rescue and rehabilitation and provides permanent accommodation for unreleasable animals has sufficient resources to cope with both aspects of care. The Raptor Rescue Guidance Notes and Code of Practice for Raptor Rehabilitators (D53) state that "No bird which is retained should adversely affect a rehabilitator's resources which would otherwise be available for the treatment of birds viable for re-release." and that birds which are not suitable for release and are not suitable for purposes such as rearing of orphaned birds "should be found a suitable home other than with the rehabilitator".(D53)
  • It is probably inevitable that any centre providing permanent care for casualty animals will be asked to undertake the care of more animals than the centre can house and care for in an appropriate manner. Care must be taken that the centre does not become overcrowded and that standards of welfare for the occupants are not allowed to diminish under pressure. Written policies regarding e.g. the number and type of birds which may be maintained in an aviary of a given size may be of assistance for decision making.
  • When animals are in permanent care and are not in organised breeding programmes, care should be taken to avoid breeding.
  • Relevant legislation regarding the display of wild animals must be complied with. 
    • Any collection containing non-domesticated animals which is open to the public for more than seven days a year requires a zoo licence under the Zoo Licensing Act 1981. (B156.21.w21)
    • If any animal included on Annex A of CITES (for example all UK-indigenous birds of prey) is on display to the public for gain an Article 10 Certificate must be obtained; a zoo may obtain an Article 30 Certificate covering the display of all Annex A specimens in their collection. (D53)

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UK Contact Organisations and Published Guidelines for Further Reading (Electronic Library)

(UK Contacts)

(Further Reading)
Click image for full contents list of ELECTRONIC LIBRARY

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Authors & Referees

Author Debra Bourne
Referees Becki Lawson and Suzanne Boardman

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