Action: Rehabilitate injured, sick or weak mammals
Key messagesRead our guidance on Key messages before continuing
- Thirteen studies evaluated the effects of rehabilitating injured, sick or weak mammals. Four studies were in the UK, three were in Spain, two were in Argentina and one each was in Uganda, Australia, the USA and Brazil.
COMMUNITY RESPONSE (0 STUDIES)
POPULATION RESPONSE (12 STUDIES)
- Survival (11 studies): Five studies, in the UK and Spain, found that varying proportions of European hedgehogs released after being rehabilitated in captivity survived during post-release monitoring periods, which ranged from two weeks to 136 days. Five studies, in Australia, Spain, the USA and Brazil, found that four koalas, an Iberian lynx, a gray wolf, a puma and two brown bears released following rehabilitation in captivity survived for varying durations during monitoring periods, which ranged in length from three months to up to seven years. A study in Argentina found that over half of released rehabilitated and captive-reared giant anteaters survived for at least six months.
- Condition (2 studies): A study in Uganda found that a snare wound in a white rhinoceros healed after treatment and rehabilitation. A study in the UK found that two of three rehabilitated European hedgehogs lost 12-36% of their body weight after release into the wild.
BEHAVIOUR (1 STUDY)
Behaviour change (1 study): A controlled study in Argentina found that released wild-born rehabilitated giant anteaters were more nocturnal in their activity patterns than captive-bred individuals.
Mammals that are injured, sick or found in a weak condition are sometimes taken in by wildlife rehabilitators, to be treated and released back into the wild. Often, this is done more for animal welfare reasons than for species conservation though, for rare species, release of such animals may provide opportunities for choosing where to augment populations. The success of such programmes can be difficult to judge, without benchmark data for survival of wild-reared mammals. It is also important to note that the majority of studies summarised below have very small sample sizes, and that unsuccessful attempts are less likely to have been reported.
Supporting evidence from individual studies
A study in 1965 in a grassland site in West Nile District, Uganda (Spinage & Fairrie 1966) found that after rehabilitation, a snare wound in a white rhinoceros Ceratotherium simum simum healed. One day after an operation to retrieve a deeply embedded snare from a leg, the adult female white rhinoceros was walking and grazing. Three weeks after the operation, the wound appeared nearly healed and, after six weeks, the rhinoceros was not limping anymore. Five months after the operation, the rhinoceros produced a calf. In July 1965, a white rhinoceros found limping due to a snare wound was immobilised and the snare was cut out with a hacksaw. The wound was swabbed with alcohol, smeared with intramammary penicillin and dusted with penicillin powder. A rough bandage was applied and, during the operation, the rhinoceros was injected with dimethylchlortetracycline.
A study in 1988–1989 in a woodland site in Queensland, Australia (Ellis et al. 1990) found that four injured and rehabilitated koalas Phascolarctos cinereus each survived for between at least 20 days and four months after release. Two males moved 2.8 and 3.5 km and left the study area within one month. One settled 6 km from the release site (duration not stated). The other could not be relocated after last being recorded 1.4 km from the release site. Two females moved 0.9 and 1.3 km in 30 days. One female was recaptured after two months (suffering from disease). The other was recaptured after four months (due to collar-induced injuries). Four koalas, rehabilitated after minor road accident injuries, were released in September–November 1988 at adjacent localities (precise spacing not stated). Koalas were monitored daily by radio-tacking for 30 days after release, then twice weekly.
A study in 1989 in a forest and grassland site in Yorkshire, UK (Morris et al. 1992) found that three of four European hedgehogs Erinaceus europaeus that had been treated for injuries and released back into the wild survived over two weeks, but two of the three surviving hedgehogs lost weight. Three of four released hedgehogs survived for at least two weeks in the wild, built nests, and established home ranges (total area 6–17 ha). The other hedgehog (a male) died three days after release. After two weeks, two of the three surviving hedgehogs had lost significant body weight (12–36%). Two female and two male hedgehogs were released in June 1989 following treatment in captivity for injuries. Hedgehogs were radio-tracked for 15 nights after release and were located at least once every hour throughout the night until they nested. Hedgehogs were captured and weighed at release and every 1–2 nights throughout the study.
A study in 1991 in a farmland site in Suffolk, UK (Morris et al. 1993) found that over one third of rehabilitated European hedgehogs Erinaceus europaeus survived more than seven weeks after release into the wild. At least three out of eight (38%) rehabilitated hedgehogs survived over seven weeks post-release, though one then drowned and one was killed in a road accident. Contact was lost with four animals, but authors report that they were probably still alive at least five weeks after release. One hedgehog died due to illness within two weeks. Eight hedgehogs, rehabilitated after being found injured, ill or underweight, were released in a mosaic of pasture, hay meadow and arable land in July 1991. Animals were radio-tagged and followed nightly during the first three weeks post-release and sporadically until the eighth week post-release.
A study in 1993 in pasture on a farm in Devon, UK (Morris & Warwick 1994) found that 40% of rehabilitated juvenile European hedgehogs Erinaceus europaeus survived for at least nine weeks after release back into the wild. Of 10 hedgehogs monitored, four were still alive at the end of the nine-week monitoring period, three had been predated by European badgers Meles meles, two had been killed on roads and one sick animal had been euthanized. Two further animals survived for at least three and four weeks before losing their radio transmitters. Twelve hedgehogs (6 male, 6 female) were released on or shortly after 2 April 1993. They were wild-born, but had been taken into captivity at a wildlife hospital as underweight juveniles the previous year. Hedgehogs weighed 82–312 g when taken into captivity and 560–1,106 g at time of release. Survival and movements were monitored by radio-tracking.
A study in 1991–1992 in a shrubland and grassland site in Sierra Morena, Spain (Rodriguez et al. 1995) found that a rehabilitated Iberian lynx Lynx pardinus survived at least three months after release back into the wild. The lynx was still alive at least 93 days after release, and radio-collar fixes suggested it had established a 220 ha territory. On 6 July 1991, a wounded male Iberian lynx kitten (approximately four months old, weighing 2 kg) was brought into captivity with superficial wounds and a fractured femur. The wounds were treated and the animal was kept in a small cage with padded walls. After 43 days, it was moved to a 5 × 5-m outdoor enclosure where it was fed European rabbits Oryctolagus cuniculus for 112 days. After this, the animal (weight 4.9 kg) was fitted with a radio-collar and moved to a 1-ha enclosure with natural vegetation and wild rabbits. After 83 days in this enclosure, on 2 March 1992, the animal (weight 6.0 kg) was released in a pine stand, 9 km from where it was originally found. It was monitored daily until the radio-collar fell off.
A study in 1995–1999 in a forest and wetland site in Wisconsin, USA (Thiel 2000) found that a gray wolf Canis lupus treated for a leg injury subsequently survived in the wild for at least 4.5 years. The young adult (>1 year) male wolf sustained torn ligaments and an elbow dislocation to a front leg, following capture in a leg-hold trap on 21 May 1995. The dislocation was repaired using artificial ligaments. The wolf was transferred to a holding pen, but escaped on 23 May 1995. Roadkill deer were supplied for six months following the animal’s escape. The wolf was monitored primarily by locating tracks, and was still alive on 24 September 1999. The escape site was a 36-km2 wildlife area, enclosed in a 3-m high deer-proof fence. No other wolves were present at the time of escape though two subsequently entered and the three were observed travelling together.
A controlled study in 2004 in suburban gardens in Bristol, UK (Molony et al. 2006) found that most rehabilitated European hedgehogs Erinaceus europaeus survived over eight weeks after release back into the wild. The probability of rehabilitated hedgehogs surviving more than eight weeks after release into the wild was 73%. However, over the same period, resident wild hedgehogs in the same study area had a survival probability of 95%. Body weight decline in rehabilitated hedgehogs (13%) was similar to resident hedgehogs (5%). However, the night range of rehabilitated hedgehogs (0.58 km2) was smaller than that of resident hedgehogs (1.67 km2). Between May and June 2004, twenty rehabilitated hedgehogs were released, one each in 20 suburban gardens. Food was provided during the first week. Rehabilitated hedgehogs and 20 wild hedgehogs inhabiting the same gardens were radio-tracked over eight weeks. Hedgehogs were weighed every 10 days. No details about the rehabilitation are provided.
A study in 2006–2008 in four forest and farmland sites in a protected area near Barcelona, Spain (Cahill et al. 2011) found that more than half of rehabilitated European hedgehogs Erinaceus europaeus released back into the wild survived over 20 days and one hedgehog survived for at least four months. Ten of 15 released hedgehogs survived for at least 9–136 days in the wild before their radio-tags were lost. Eight of them survived for at least 22–58 days, and one survived for at least four months. The other five hedgehogs died within two months of release due to predation (two hedgehogs), accidents (two hedgehogs) or unknown causes (one hedgehog). In 2006–2008, seven male and eight female rehabilitated hedgehogs were released across four sites in Collserola Natural Park. No details about rehabilitation are provided, but all individuals were considered healthy at the time of release. The released hedgehogs were radio-tagged and their locations were recorded 9–42 times over 5–136 days between July 2006 and June 2008
A study in 2007–2014 in a grassland reserve in Corrientes Province, Argentina (Di Blanco et al. 2015; same experimental set-up as Di Blanco et al. 2017) found that over half of released rehabilitated and captive-reared giant anteaters Myrmecophaga tridactyla, some of which were kept in holding pens and provided with supplementary food, survived for at least six months. At least 18 of 31 released giant anteaters survived for a minimum of six months. Long-term survival and the fate of the other 13 anteaters is not reported. In 2007–2013, thirty-one giant anteaters (18 males, 13 females; 1–8 years old) were released into a 124-km2 private reserve. Hunting within the reserve was prohibited and livestock were absent. Three anteaters were wild-born but rehabilitated in captivity from injuries, 22 were wild-born but captive-reared and six were from zoos (origin not stated). Of the 18 surviving anteaters, six had been released after a short period in a 0.5-ha pen at the release site and 12 after 7–30 days in a 7-ha pen. Supplementary food was provided for several weeks after release. In 2007–2014, thirteen anteaters were tracked for less than six months, and 18 were tracked for 6–46 months.
A study in 2009–2012 in a forest area in São Paulo, Brazil (Adania et al. 2017) found that a rehabilitated puma Puma concolor released back into the wild survived for 14 months. Fourteen months after release, the rehabilitated puma was run over and found dead by a highway. The puma was healthy and the death resulted from the collision. A young male puma (approximately 12 months old) was rescued in September 2009 after being hit by a vehicle. It was kept and treated in a recovery enclosure (15 × 3 × 3 m). After 542 days, the puma had fully recovered and was transferred to a pre-release enclosure (35 × 30 × 5 m) in a forested mountainous area, 28 km from where it had been hit. It was radio-tagged and released after 34 days in the pre-release enclosure. The puma was tracked every 1–3 days from an ultra-light aircraft between February 2011 and April 2012.
A controlled study in 2007–2012 in a grassland reserve in Corrientes, Argentina (Di Blanco et al. 2017; same experimental set-up as Di Blanco et al. 2015) found that wild-born rehabilitated giant anteaters Myrmecophaga tridactyla released into the wild were more nocturnal in their activity patterns than captive-bred individuals. Wild-born rehabilitated giant anteaters were proportionally more active at night than captive-bred animals (70% vs 43% of activity records were at night). During 2007–2012, four wild-born and three captive-bred adult giant anteaters were released into a 124-km2 private reserve. Wild-born animals were rehabilitated after being injured by hunters or in road accidents. Six anteaters (all wild-born and two captive-bred anteaters) were released after spending a short period of time in a 0.5 ha acclimatisation pen. The remaining 12 anteaters spent 7-30 days in a 7 ha holding pen at the release site prior to release. Supplementary food was provided in the holding pen and for several weeks after anteaters were released. Each of the seven anteaters was fitted with a radio-transmitter and tracked for 1–2 x 24 h periods/month in 2007 and 2011. The released anteaters were further monitored using 14 baited camera traps for an average of 336 days/trap during 2008–2012.
A study in 2008-2013 in two forested, mountainous areas of north-west Spain (Penteriani et al. 2017) found that after treating three young female brown bears Ursus arctos for injuries and releasing them back in to the wild, one was recaptured 21 days after release and two survived for at least 4-7 years. One cub was recaptured 21 days following release after repeatedly entering villages during the day. The other cub was monitored for 239 days, then seen seven years after release. One female sub-adult was monitored for 292 days, then seen four years after release with a dependent cub. The two bears remaining in the wild both established home ranges (90% of cub’s home range: 182 ha; 90% of sub-adult’s home range: 2,816 ha). In 2008-2013, three young bears were taken into captivity for 41-145 days to be treated for injuries and were then released to one of two sites, 3-14 km from where they were captured. One was monitored daily by radio-tracking for 239 days and two were monitored hourly by GPS for 21 and 292 days until they were recaptured, or the collar was lost.
- Spinage C.A. & Fairrie R.D. (1966) Removal of a snare from a white rhinoceros in the West Nile White Rhino Sanctuary. African Journal of Ecology, 4, 149-151
- Ellis W.A.H., White N.A., Kunst N.D. & Carrick F.N. (1990) Response of koalas (Phacolarctos cinereus) to re-intoduction to the wild after rehabilitation. Australian Wildlife Research, 17, 421-426
- Morris P.A., Munn S. & Craig-Wood S. (1992) The effects of releasing captive hedgehogs (Erinaceus europaeus) into the wild. Field Studies, 8, 89-99
- Morris P.A., Meakin K. & Sharafi S. (1993) The behaviour and survival of rehabilitated hedgehogs (Erinaceus europaeus). Animal Welfare, 2, 53-66
- Morris P.A. & Warwick H. (1994) A study of rehabilitated juvenile hedgehogs after release into the wild. Animal Welfare, 3, 163-177
- Rodriguez A., Barrios L. & Delibes M. (1995) Experimental release of an Iberian lynx (Lynx pardinus). Biodiversity and Conservation, 4, 382-394
- Thiel R.P. (2000) Successful release of a wild Wolf Canis lupus, following treatment for a leg injury. The Canadian Field-Naturalist, 114, 317-319
- Molony S.E., Dowding C.V., Baker P.J., Cuthill I.C. & Harris S. (2006) The effect of translocation and temporary captivity on wildlife rehabilitation success: an experimental study using European hedgehogs (Erinaceus europaeus). Biological Conservation, 130, 530-537
- Cahill S., Llimona F., Tenés A., Carles S. & Cabañeros L. (2011) Radioseguimiento post recuperación de erizos europeos (Erinaceus europaeus Linnaeus, 1758) en el Parque Natural de la Sierra de Collserola (Barcelona). Galemys, 23, 63-72
- Di Blanco Y.E., Jiménez-Pérez I. & Di Bitetti M.S. (2015) Habitat selection in reintroduced giant anteaters: the critical role of conservation areas. Journal of Mammalogy, 96, 1024-1035
- Adania C.H., de Carvalho W.D., Rosalino L.M., Pereira J.D. & Crawshaw P.G. (2017) First soft-release of a relocated puma in South America. Mammal Research, 62, 121-128
- Di Blanco Y.E., Sporring K.L. & Di Bitetti M.S. (2017) Daily activity pattern of reintroduced giant anteaters (Myrmecophaga tridactyla): effects of seasonality and experience. Mammalia, 81, 11-21
- Penteriani V., del Mar Delgado M., López-Bao J.V., García P.V., Monros J.S., Álvarez E.V., Corominas T.S. & Vázquez V.M. (2017) Patterns of movement of released female brown bears in the Cantabrian Mountains, northwestern Spain. Ursus, 28, 165-170