(Don't) Rescue me

5th May 2016


This is a message most often (and quite rightly) voiced by those working in native wildlife rescue:


Don’t touch or rescue an animal unless you are a professional

(especially if that animal is a baby; its mother is likely keeping a close eye

on it from a distance, unseen by you!).


The internet and various novels and biographies chronicle the adventures of many in the animal rescue world from dogs and cats to elephants and whales.  These are amazing stories and some are no doubt very truthful but remember that many will be exaggerated, elaborated upon and simply fabricated for the amusement of readers, viewers and listeners for reasons unknown.


Regardless of what animals are being rescued and in what circumstances this task should ALWAYS be left to professionals.  We in this world by no means want to rob anyone of their chance to be a hero but what we are concerned with is human safety and animal welfare.


Animal rescue and rehabilitation is extremely hard work, can be exceedingly expensive and should always be based on proven scientific techniques and thinking whatever animal is being rescued and whatever condition it is in.


On more occasions that I care to mention Grace’s Rest has been called in to rescue an animal from its “rescuer” only to find it in an appalling state.  These incidents are inevitably accompanied by the mantra “I rescued it but: I can’t afford to take it to a vet; I cannot cope with it; it bites; it isn’t getting better; I think it’d be better off with someone with more experience; can you have a go with it?”


Again and again we will find animals in the exact situation they were “rescued” in, the same inappropriate environment, diet and lack of veterinary care, but simply in a new location.  Often the “rescuer” is baffled as to why the animal has failed to thrive in their care despite not changing a thing simply because it is them that is now their care giver.


As with all animals, their environment plays a huge role in their health and wellbeing.  Time and again we hear “rescuers” confess that they do not want to spend money to improve the animal’s enclosure because “it is only a rescue”.  Still more will attempt improvements and completely miss the mark due to a lack of specialist wild animal care know-how and/or animal nursing knowledge.  This can be extremely detrimental to a sick animal.  Think of it this way, you wouldn’t force a dog into a filthy outdoor kennel on a snowy day when they are recovering from a massive injury just because the kennel was designed to house it.  Those conditions would only make it more vulnerable to infection, complications and death.  The same is true of exotics.  Sometimes a live-planted naturalistic environment is best (for a fit and healthy animal) but sometimes a clinical, easy to clean, environment is the order of the day (for a sick or injured animal for example).


As humans we all know how important our diet is to our long-term health.  If we gorge on fatty, sugary, salty foods while doing no exercise we gain weight, our internal organs begin to struggle and we start to see the consequences of our over indulgence through obesity, heart disease, diabetes and even strokes or cancer.  When an animal (or human) is chronically underweight it is tempting to simply offer them huge portions or to put them straight on to the regular diet plan for that species with extra supplements.  While the latter would in part be beneficial for an healthy animal (you should never over-do the supplements) for creature recovering from sickness the former most certainly is not.  All too often “rescuers” allow emaciated animals to bolt down vast quantities of food without considering the ramifications on their body.  Feeding a starving animal in this way can be HUGELY detrimental, particularly on the liver as it struggles to cope with the sudden influx of nutrients after being starved for so long.  Fatty-liver disease can result leading to further complications and potentially death.  Sadly we have seen this many times in Bearded Dragons where a “rescuer” has tried to “have a go” without professional guidance.  To offer another illustrative example, when helping an emaciated person recover they will be offered a carefully balanced diet that changes over the course of their recovery, with the amounts allowed from each essential food group increasing as the person gains weight; they will not be given an endless buffet to gorge themselves from day one!

This tiny baby Chinese Water Dragon was so critically ill that it passed away before it reached our vet. It was one of three that had been "rescued" and received no treatment before admission to Grace's Rest.

Rudimentary home treatments and “cure-alls” are rife and usually do more harm than good.  Iodine is over-used (yes it can be great stuff when used properly but you can easily over-do it and inadvertently cause more harm), disinfectant is rarely seen and antibiotics are either forgone altogether or self-prescribed sometimes with terrible repercussions.  Some owners will even proudly bathe and syringe feed high sugar energy drinks into dehydrated reptiles erroneously believing it to solve the problem.  We would NEVER recommend that anyone do this to any animal, these drinks are full of potentially harmful additives and even come with a warning label against giving them to young children.  Why therefore should we force it into a sick animal when there are safe products available on the market (at a very affordable price) specifically designed to assist with rehydrating reptiles?  None of these home remedies are EVER a substitute for a specially trained exotics vet.


As a source of information the internet is both a blessing and a curse.  A quick search will reveal all sorts of conflicting information and there is a worrying trend for owners and “rescuers” to consult social media over a journal, book or specialist.  Please remember folks that anyone can publish something online with no validation and that for every genuine experts out there that there are millions of those willing to voice their opinion with absolutely no basis in scientific fact.


Repeatedly even after the “rescuer” has admitted defeat and approaches professional rescuers for help it can be incredibly hard for them to grasp the urgency of the situation.  Often we (and many other rescuers) are left desperately chasing a “rescuer” days or even weeks after their plea for help because they are yet to sign over their critically ill animal.  Even after they have told us that it is not eating/drinking, fitting, missing a limb/s, paralysed or simply dying they will still not be available for us to collect it and give it the immediate care is so desperately needs.  I have wondered at times if this is due to embarrassment or shame at the situation.  Surely though it is more shameful to allow the animal to suffer further when it could be getting help from a professional.  That unnecessary period of delay could mean the difference between life or death.


Sadly in many incidences where an animal has been “rescued” before arriving at Grace’s Rest its outcome has been less than peachy.  For many of these poor creatures the only humane option left has been euthanasia.  Others, while able to live comfortably for a time, has had vastly decreased life-spans.


The overriding message I am trying to convey here is to please leave rescue to the professionals.  As the old saying goes,


“The road to Hell is paved with good intentions”


If you find yourself in the position to (legally) liberate an animal in need of rescue I beg you to take it to your nearest legitimate animal rescue service, like Grace’s Rest, immediately!  You will be even more of a hero by doing so than by trying to go it alone as an amateur and you might just save a life!

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Meet the Owner-Operator, Clare Barnard BSc.(Hons)


Clare is a research scientist and PhD candidate at the University of Lincoln where she is studying wildlife conservation and the direct impact of the exotic pet trade on wild animal populations.  She will be working from the Laboratory of Evolutionary Ecology of Adaptations.  Clare has also been honoured to become part of the Global Amphibian Biodiversity research team.


Clare has almost 20 years professional experience in the husbandry of exotic animals a specialism in the genetics of British herpetofauna.  She has worked with wild Adders (Vipera berus) and endangered Natterjack Toads (Epidalea calamita) under Natural England license conditions.  Clare has worked as a zookeeper and within private collections including her own.  She lives in rural North Warwickshire, on-site at Grace's Rest, with a whole host of animals!

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