How To Rescue An Animal In 5 Easy Steps
A wildlife rescue is a chance for a charity to show the incredible work they do in a very tangible way for the public to see.
In real life, while these are cathartic events requiring huge effort on a global and a personal level, they are the absolute tip of the iceberg of the tireless work done by your favourite NGOs.
Having worked with countless charities for many years, and with rescues being the brunt of my work, I want help everyone to appreciate the incredible work these people do. So for a moment, let’s put aside the equipment, the trucks, the boats, the teams of passionate and exhausted men and women and even the animals that are beginning their new life.
Here’s how you really rescue an animal.
Step 1. Know When To Help
Find an animal in need of rescuing, a whole species in need of help, or perhaps a country or community that needs support in order to conserve their wildlife or environment. You probably didn't have to look much farther than your own doorstep.
Here's the first challenge: don't rescue it.
You want to take immediate action, but first you must understand the situation, or you risk making things worse for this animal and many others of its kind, or ruining the groundwork of others who are also trying to help. As an individual, buying a pet shop puppy or paying to release a bird at a temple in Asia to 'rescue' it only hurts other animals that replace it thanks to your money. This also goes for begging animals, as I have written about before, you may actually be making the situation worse. Even something simple like feeding your local strays might be making it allowing them to breed more and become unmanageable. Talk to your local welfare groups first, and work together.
On a larger scale, steaming in to new situations can also upset the delicate relationships that other NGOs have been building for years or decades.
So you care enough to rescue it, but do you care enough not to? This is the heartbreaking situations many charities get put in every day, but for good reason. You may question them or ask them why they aren't helping a certain animal in need right now, or campaigning against a certain issue. I can assure you that they are, just not in a way that you may be able to see.
I have seen countless animals in unspeakable conditions and, just like you, I want them rescued NOW. It breaks my heart that it is not that simple, because to do so would make it worse for them and the other animals. Whether it's animals you see reported on social media or in front of your eyes, remember to be strong and find out the best way to help, even if it's not the way you want.
Step 2. Build A Community
So you have found your animal, you've researched the situation, you've had a cup of tea and thought it through, and you're sure that you need to help. Instead of charging in, first talk to people on the ground. Support the local communities and local NGOs that are already addressing this problem (I assure you, whatever the cause, there are almost certainly people already there trying).
Want to set up a new sanctuary in a new country? Why not try to work with those already working there instead or as well? This might mean engaging with an elephant-owning family for years to understand their situation, and helping them to find alternative sources of income. It might mean working with national and local government to shut down bear farms and put legislation in place to stop new ones. It might mean creating a Trap, Neuter, Release program to make sure your dog shelter doesn't simply fill up within months.
Talk to people and understand the political and cultural situation. What kind of approach should you take? In Asia, an aggressive, vocal or head-on approach is often a bad idea culturally, and you and the animals will face an even more difficult time. A negative shaming campaign or petition might be great in the short-term, but might hurt the animals and the efforts of everyone else who is trying to help in the long-term.
So you've started to build relationships and trust with local people, communities, governments.
Now all you have to do is continue this for the years or perhaps decades that it may take.
Step 3. Stop The Suffering
So the easy part is done, you've managed to understand an entire culture and complex situation and build the trust of everyone involved. Now all you need to do is understand why the animal is in peril, and stop that too.
At the very least, you must be sure that the animal in need isn't going to be replaced by another. How do you do that? Where did it come from? Why is it there? What's keeping it there? What would happen if it was taken away?
Some people talk about a 'welfare vs. conservation' issue, the idea that it might be necessary for animals to suffer in order to save a species. I have generally found this argument unnecessary; we have to do both. To me, and all the the charities I have worked with, these goals go hand in hand. Find solutions to help the animals and to stop the root cause.
So simply find solutions where everyone wins, where people’s livelihoods are not taken away by stopping them from hunting, farming, etc, where no-one 'loses face', where nothing is harmed by the new situation. Raise funds for these projects and train people in the community for them to fix these problems. Teach, make it sustainable.
Develop the resources, people, funds, equipment needed to rescue animals in the short and medium term, all the while campaigning for the long term changes in attitudes, laws or regulations.
(N.B. You may have to change an entire continent’s viewpoint on traditional beliefs, etc, in the process).
Step 4. Rescue The Animal
This might take a couple of days, so set your alarm clock and pack sandwiches.
Step 5. Look After It For A Lifetime
Now that it's safe and sound (make sure you remember to build a sanctuary and staff it with capable people) we just have to ensure it’s cared for for up to 60 years. Provide an appropriate habitat and stimulating environment for it. Provide your dog a home for 10 or 15 years, 30 for a bear, 60 or more for an elephant.
Gather the funds and expertise to support them for decades. Remember to get a succession plan in order too, because if you just rescued an elephant it's probably going to outlive you! It may even be relatively easy to raise funds for your rescue in step 4, but it may be much harder to raise funds for your everyday costs in looking after your rescued animal, so be sure to take this into account.
If this sounds hard, there's a much easier way, simply release it back to the wild!
Step 5. (alternative) Let It Go, Let It Go!
Looking after animals for decades can be costly, so just release them instead!
Many captive-born animals will simply starve to death in the wild, and injured animals will not survive, so I'm afraid this option won't suit them. If you animal is used to humans, they will likely get poached very quickly, so these may also not be well suited to release, so too bad, you're back to finding millions of dollars to support the animals for their lifetimes.
For the rest, every species and every individual is different, so before you release them, make sure you have a good body of work on their wild behavior, showing how well they are likely to survive in the wild. Make sure the research covers if their food is present there, how many of these animals the ecosystem can support, what's their natural range, are there wild animals there already, what their social structures are like, if they would be able to integrate with the wild population and so on. In some cases of rare species there will be almost zero existing research on any of this. Good luck!
Fast forward 10 years, your multitude of research projects went perfectly and you're sure they're going to flourish in the wild. Now find a safe spot to release them.
Make sure that during Step 3 you found appropriately large and safe habitat for the animals and fixed all the problems they face, such as poaching and deforestation. Governments tend to be a bit picky over who does what with the land in their country, so make sure they support your idea. Then make sure the habitat will not be cut down, dug up or filled in for say, the next hundred years.
If you didn't quite manage to address these issues, you can hire or train rangers to protect the area 24-hours a day. Make sure they are dedicated and passionate, as people will try to bribe them and/or hurt or kill them.
With that done, you're ready to release them!
So there we have it, 5 easy steps!
Wildlife rescues are truly incredible events that require amazing dedication and resources and they are to be celebrated. But they are not just a few days of effort, they are the tip of the iceberg. A culmination of decades of groundwork, mostly behind the scenes and most of which goes unappreciated.
So next time you see someone online complaining that a charity is ignoring an animal in need or an issue that needs attention, please know that they know.
They already know, they care, and they have probably been doing everything they can to help long before it become public knowledge, even if they can't show it right now, or perhaps ever.
Support your favourite charities all year round, once in a while consider helping them with their operational and core costs, keeping their animals alive and their programs running, as without this, there wouldn't be any rescued animals to take care of.