Thursday, August 04, 2005

U of I's Wildlife Medical Clinic

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Most of the time, what wild animals need from people is to be left alone. But when an animal is injured by a run-in with a car or a window, or it shows up obviously ill where people can’t get around it, some sort of human intervention is warranted. That’s part of the philosophy behind the Wildlife Medical Clinic located in the University of Illinois’ Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital off of South Lincoln Avenue in Urbana.

The purpose of the clinic is to treat sick, injured, or orphaned animals so that they may be returned to the wild. At the same time, the clinic provides veterinary students and faculty with excellent opportunities to develop their medical skills. The wildlife clinic also seeks to educate the public about Illinois wildlife and veterinary medicine.

When it was established in 1978, the Wildlife Medical Clinic was staffed by just a handful of volunteers, and was able to admit only a limited number of cases. Since that time it has grown steadily, and it now attracts around a hundred volunteers every semester, and admits nearly two thousand cases in a year.

The range of patients admitted to the clinic includes animals as large and formidable as white-tailed deer and coyotes, and as small and delicate as ruby throated hummingbirds. In between, there are hawks, owls, foxes, possums, robins, raccoons, squirrels, and snapping turtles—just about all of the animals common to our region.

Rabbits constitute nearly twenty five percent of all cases at the clinic, the largest proportion of any one kind of animal, although that figure is skewed by the fact that people often bring in entire litters of baby rabbits, mistakenly thinking they have been abandoned. For the record, it is normal for mother rabbits to leave their young untended except to nurse them at dawn and dusk.

After an animal has been admitted to the clinic and provided with initial treatment, it is assigned to a team of eight to ten volunteers—generally veterinary students—who are then responsible for all of the care the animal requires. The clinic has access to the full range services offered in the veterinary teaching hospital, such as x-rays and blood tests, as well as help from specialists in areas such as ophthalmology and neurology.

Although the Wildlife Medical Clinic is staffed by volunteers and operates with space and equipment provided by the College of Veterinary Medicine, it does depend on public support for all supplies, feed, and new equipment.

One week from today, Thursday, August 11th, the U of I’s College of Veterinary Medicine will host a free, public talk to raise awareness about the Wildlife Medical Clinic and other programs sponsored by the College that promote the health of wildlife and human communities globally. Joan Embery, formerly the conservation ambassador for the San Diego Zoo, will talk about highlights of her career and share her insights about how to ensure a healthy planet for both humans and animals.

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