By Amanda Ach
This past weekend, I took a trip to the Monterey Bay Aquarium. If you haven’t been, I highly recommend you visit before you graduate — it’s an incredible place. We saw adorable otters, played with the interactive exhibits (which were definitely intended for children but I found to be a lot of fun) and most importantly, watched a video about seahorse sex, in which they delicately refer to it as “dancing.” Needless to say, it was a great day. But as much fun as the aquarium is, it is also a very informative place — I not only learned about seahorses and their sex lives, but was also reminded of how our destructive lifestyles are ruining ecosystems and endangering the lives of many marine animals. Unfortunately, the way the message was presented was somewhat flawed — to raise awareness about the ecological impacts of various foods, the museum put out plates of shrimp cocktails and sashimi. Of course, this just made me hungry, and after leaving the museum — and I’m really ashamed to admit this — I went to a restaurant and ordered myself a shrimp cocktail. Oops. Fortunately, there is a silver lining to this story. My guilt has compelled me to dedicate this week’s column to the poor, delicious shrimp and all the other endangered animals by recommending that you pursue a career as a wildlife rehabilitator.
In the past, wildlife rehabilitation was considered a hobby, with people mostly helping out in their free time. However, as environmental concerns grow and more wild animals are pushed out of their natural habitats by human activity, the need for wildlife rehabilitators has grown. In fact, it is now a full-time job at which someone can make a living — albeit, not a great living, but one that will support habits such as eating and living under a roof.
The job of a wildlife rehabilitator is to understand the animal in its natural environment, including its eating habits and typical daily schedule, and recreate this environment as closely as possible. This allows the animal to stay wild while you care for it, so that when it has recovered, it can successfully return to its natural habitat.
While this may sound like a heartbreaking movie plot, it’s really quite a fun and exciting lifestyle. Not only will you be helping to save the Earth’s wildlife, but you will be getting paid to play with adorable little animals, which is kind of amazing. You’ll also spend most of your days outside and have a great deal of flexibility in where you want to live and what type of animals you want to help. Birds are the most common types of animals for a wildlife rehabilitator to work with, so if you’re like me and suffer from ornithophobia (fear of birds), consider yourself warned.
Those best-suited for a career as a wildlife rehabilitator — aside from not having animal-related phobias — will have a degree in biology, ecology or some related field. Beyond this degree, most organizations will require some sort of certification, although these requirements vary depending on the employer. In the end, though, the biggest requirement is really your dedication to doing this with your life. Those of you who love animals, the environment and helping others will probably do well in this job — if you’re just in it for the money, maybe look elsewhere.
Bleeding hearts/wildlife rehabilitators are employed by a variety of different organizations, including government agencies, non-profit environmental and animal rights groups and zoos. You will have the opportunity to work with biologists on their research related to these animals and their ecosystems, including installing tracking devices in a humane way. The job also involves basic medical work, so while most wildlife rehabilitators are not veterinarians, many dabble in animal first-aid (yes, it’s a real thing.)
As a wildlife rehabilitator, you will get to work with animals and protect them in a hands-on way. By returning these animals to the wild fully healed, you will also be restoring the ecosystems to which they belong and strengthening the environment as a whole. It a truly great thing to do with your life, and on a more selfish note, hopefully you can undo some of the damage I did when I ate that shrimp cocktail.
Want to show Amanda your best seahorse impression? Then email her at aach “at” stanford “dot” edu.