Wildlife Rescue By Angela Wilkes
Reviewed by Bill Bradbeer
Wildlife committee chair, Angela Wilkes, has published a substantial handbook for the rescue of wild animals suffering from wounds, injuries, poisoning, disease, starvation, abandonment etc. as well as those animals trapped by natural or man made hazards. It is aimed at the general public and presents a range of recurring themes: When to act? When not to act? What to do? What not to do? What is legal and what is not? Essentially the unqualified person is allowed to administer first aid to an injured animal and for each type of animal the book gives first aid instructions and the suggested composition of a casualty kit. Where appropriate a single-page first aid procedure mirrors that for human casualties as an A, B, C (and D) guide: Airways, Breathing, Circulation and Do’s and Don’ts. The rescuer should then seek instructions from one of the listed centres of first call, without delay, and may then become committed to delivering the casualty to a local animal hospital or rehabilitation centre. The book lists 113 of the more established ones in the United Kingdom, but the author estimates that there are more than 700 specialist wildlife hospital treatment centres in England and Wales alone.
Almost the whole of the book comprises seven comprehensive chapters on different classes of wildlife. The life-style of hedgehogs makes them particularly vulnerable to accidental contact with suburban man, while their bumbling gait and taste for slugs and beetles makes them something of a favoured resident (there are not many ground-nesting birds in Dulwich), so they get the first chapter. Garden birds and water birds get the next two, there is one on foxes and another which covers a mixed bag of 17 species which comprise rodents, rabbits, hares, shrews and moles. Badgers merit their own chapter and everything else goes into Chapter 7, which is described as “Rescuing the Rest, from Stags to Stag Beetles”. Each of these chapters starts off with factual information about the animal, such as estimated population, distribution, habitat, identification, breeding, feeding, territory, the Law, problems caused by hazards, the animal diseases affecting human health, other diseases, internal and external parasites. Anecdotes about successful rescues are included, although success may be partial, in that recovery may not permit the return of the animal to the wild. However injury often requires euthanasia. Invertebrates get the simplest attention; rescue usually involves nothing more than the transfer of displaced animals to a place of safety.
This is not just a book for the compassionate minority who are willing and able to devote time and money to animal rescue. It provides food for thought for anyone with an interest in the natural world. Highly controversial opinions exist in the field of conservation and failure to reach some level of consensus weakens the impact of conservationists. Foxes arouse mixed emotions in Britain and Angela Wilkes shows a particular soft spot for them in Chapter 4, in which she reports that 80% of surveyed householders in Greater London were pleased to see foxes in their gardens. Fox cubs are undoubtedly cute, furry and apparently cuddly and even deemed to be a suitable model for soft toys. In contrast, I am one of those who have viewed with horror the rise of the suburban fox, of which those in Dulwich seem to be a mangy, scrounging, quarrelsome and disease-ridden apology for their rural ancestors. Our first fox, more than twenty years ago, was a splendid beast, but I attribute their subsequent population boom to failures in garbage disposal on the part of the public, to food dropped in public places or even left in fox-accessible litter bins and to the feeding of foxes in gardens. The population grows, becomes overcrowded, is inadequately accommodated, territories contract and diseases and parasites spread, with consequences for humans and their domestic animals. I identify the occurrence of Toxicara canis eggs in the faeces of foxes and the potential of foxes to spread rabies, in an outbreak, as my main public health concerns. Zero tolerance would seem to be appropriate for those of us who wish to have gardens safe for small children. I am relieved to see that the book recommends feeding only in the case of foxes undergoing rehabilitation. Any proposal to reduce an animal population in Britain seems to throw local and national government into frozen inactivity, lest the electorate be offended. In Dulwich, the Estates Governors are not believed to go in fear of electoral defeat and thus might be open to persuasion to appoint a keeper with the remit of achieving a sustainable balance of species here!
The book is generally well balanced and written with a light touch. It is both a good read and a standard source for action and reference with a well-prepared index. A glossary is included and most of the numerous illustrations are both amusing and informative.
Wildlife Rescue (256pp.) is published by Broadcast Books, Bristol, in soft back at £15.95