Special Report Preview: Life or Death, the Wildlife Rehab Laws

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MONTGOMERY, Ala.  (WHNT) - Wildlife rehabilitators across Alabama are preparing for a legal fight against the state government over what they call a species ban implemented in September.

That's when conservation officials changed the rehabbers' guidelines, forbidding the rehab of raccoons, opossum, skunk, fox, coyote, bats and feral pigs.

WHNT NEWS 19 has been looking into the inconsistency of state guidelines across Alabama and the newest move that has outraged volunteer rehabbers as well as concerned citizens.

While the latest change to the guidelines puts all rehabbers under the same rules and regulations, rehabbers are not happy with the changes.

Wildlife rehabilitators say they do it because they love animals.  They do this kind of work to save animals that need help.

They use their own money and resources to rehabilitate injured or orphaned wild animals and send them back to their natural habitat.

Now, the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources has ordered rehabbers to cease helping seven species of animals and, instead, euthanize them.

"The public brings us an animal that they think they are saving and then we have to tell them we're supposed to euthanize it?" said Janet Stratman, a rehabber from Madison County.  "That's not what we do."

"I'm not a cruel, heartless person," said Chuck Sykes, Director of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries.  He ordered the new guidelines.

"I understand this is an emotionally charged issue," he said.  "I'm an animal lover just like they are.  I just look at it from a different perspective."

Rehabbers, however, say when they've reached out to him and other officials to question their decision, they've gotten no response from officials to numerous phone calls and emails.

WHNT NEWS 19 took action and went to Montgomery to get some answers about the motives behind the move, and the possibility of the species ban being overturned.

Find out what happened in our Special Report:  Life or Death, the Wildlife Rehab Laws.

Also, see the results of our poll below. The Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources says it considers raccoons the biggest threat for rabies in the state.   Before our report aired, we asked which animal you considered the biggest threat.  Here's how you voted.


  • Michael Kewl

    “Now, the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources has ordered rehabbers to cease helping seven species of animals and, instead, euthanize them.”

    Correct decision…and thanks from all of us who are outdoors people who love our wildlfie and understand their lifecycles without human intervention is required…so don’t make the mistake of trying to make pets of these animals nor intervene to save them…

    • Vicky Garcia

      Michael, it may sound correct on paper. However, what you don’t realize is that 99% of animals that are rehabbed are due to human intervention (mothers are run over by cars, etc.). It’s nice to think that predators can just eat the babies as nature intended, however, most baby orphans (especially in the city) either die from dehydration and simply rot, or untrained people will try to raise them and probably will end up keeping them. Trained rehabbers recognize signs of diseases and will euthanize them. Could you say the same about the general public? It is very difficult for the average person to see orphans and be told “kill them or leave them to die.”.

      • Kim Robinson

        You are so right, Vicky. It’s not only a public safety concern, but our beloved family pets are also at risk. Untrained people do not recognize symptoms of illnesses, such as distemper that is transferred to our dogs and cats. The general public does not quarantine these animals to prevent the transfer of diseases. Trained rehabilitators do.

    • Janet Stratman

      Rehabbers to NOT make pets out of the animals. We raise and release back into the wild. Wildlife is just that, they deserve their freedom when they are old enough or have fully recovered.

    • Gean

      Michael, it is evident that you have absolutely nothing to back up your comments. You have no clue how dedicated these folks are to their mission, rehab and release. It is the uneducated comments like yours that feeds Conservation’s ego. If you have any studies or facts that back up your statement that rehabbers keep the wildlife they raise as pets please put up or shut up. My hat is off to this ladies and gentleman for their dedication.

  • Laura C. Scott

    I want to know where the STUDY is that shows this action to be a correct one, or just a whim of Fish and Wildlife! To say that not taking in and raising babies of these species will solve the rabies problem is insane! Besides, when I talked to an officer with Alabama Fish and Wildlife, he did not even know rabies had to be reported to the CDC and that only ONE case of a human getting rabies from a raccoon happened in several decades. Check yourself! Go to the CDC web page and check out the stats. This is insane.

  • emilyandjon@atlanticbb.net

    compassion can not be regulated to laws. Who is to say what animal is more important than another? Most rehabbers release the critters. The main reason animals get hurt is human related. I think it’s always better to try and do right then let critters die needlessly. We are here for helping one another…make that a law. :) Actually, it already is…the Gold Rule.

  • Laura C. Scott

    CHECK the CDC page, only ONE CASE of raccoon rabies has been reported in decades. However, the Alabama Fish and Wildlife officer I spoke with did not even know this! Also, where is their study that this action would even reduce the spread of any disease???? Facts are needed, not insane rules ordered by one man! Where are the FACTS??????????

  • Pamela Nash

    i just don’t understand why they would not want to rehab these animals it takes all these animals and more to help our environment to keep the cycle of life going…….as long as the REHABBERS doesn’t make pets of these breeds then i think they should be allowed to rehab them…..if not eventually they might become extinct….they are the ones that will be able to determine if they have diseases or not and most likely be able to return them back to their habitat

  • Norma Campbell

    80-90% if not more of the animals rehabbers help were compromised due to some human encounter, our car, dog, cat, kid with bb gun, etc. If an animal is hurt in the forest, the public will not find it and then Nature will take care of it. But those hurt or orphaned in town or in areas of human occupation will be found by the public and hopefully be brought to a licensed Wildlife Rehabber for help. If the animal needs to be put down then the Rehabber will see that it is done quickly and properly. These animals are not pets, they are helped to regain their full capacity and then released as close to where they came from in a proper area to continue their wild lives. THEY ARE NEVER RAISED ALONE. You do not want the public trying to rehab these animals, they have no training, they will either make pets of them or they will be bit. The public does not have access to proper diets for different species, and even tho they try will not be able to properly care and raise an animal with other of his species to be healthy enough for proper release. Animals the public raises are usually imprinted, and that is something that is not wanted.

  • Sharron Baird

    I would like to see their statistics on possums with rabies. Their body is so low it is extremely rare for this to be even possible. And would they rather have a rabid animal in the hands of the public or someone who is trained to recognize it and euthanize the animal safely? These animals are not pets, they are released back into the wild. They come in because they were hit by cars, their nest trees cut down, domestic dogs and cats attack them and other human conflicts. It will ruin the ecological balance by arbitrarily killing these animals. And the risk to humans and pets will be even greater.

    • Chris Fowler

      Sharron, here are the stats from the Alabama Department of Health showing rabid opossums.
      These numbers are from the Alabama Department of Health from 2002 – 2012 (TEN years) FOR THE WHOLE STATE.

      skunk – 3
      opossum – 3
      pig – 0
      fox – 90
      coyote – 7
      bat – 222
      raccoon – 669

      But we don’t even know what stats or data base they are using to back their decision. They refuse to tell us.

  • Janet Stratman

    The comment about this being an emotional issue is wrong. We actually are a very scientific group. We want studies, data, numbers and study authors. No emotion here, just cold hard facts required.

    No statement should be believed because it is made by an authority.
    Robert A. Heinlein

    • Gean

      The only emotions running rapid is conservation. Conservation has absolutely nothing to back up their reasoning to disallow rehabilitation of fur bearing wildlife. Conservation has received multiple request for information (FOIA) request. They have failed to provide answers to any of the requests. Conservation has failed to provide any documented studies that backs up their decision. I hope eventually the governor looks at what is being done. It is called Abuse of Power.

    • Gean

      I have worked on several projects within the State especially in Montgomery. Most offices are made up of a professional staff. I have never worked with a group quite like Conservation. There is no compassion for wildlife within the conservation offices I have visited, especially the Montgomery staff. Most of the Montgomery staff and the district offices do not know their on policies, procedures, manuals, and regulations.

  • Pam Sundeen

    This regulation is based on scientific and USDA regulations? Where are the reports, studies, data etc. used to determine this? Seems no matter who asks Chuck Sykes is not willing to provide it. Hmmm. The small amount of animals brought into rehab will not prevent disease transmission. Shouldn’t a sick animal be brought to a skilled professional for diagnosis and treatment? Conservation says leave it for Nature to take its course? Sure. Lets leave it out there so if it is ill and contagious it can spread, or better yet, lets have the untrained, compassionate general public have a try at saving it and bring said animal into their homes with children and pets. Is there logic in their somewhere? Direcor Sykes you sure seem to know alot more about “dispatching” and “harvesting” than the compassion of the 96% of the population that does not hunt or trap. And yes there are many, many compassionate hunters as well. This regulation needs overturned and Chuck Sykes needs to visit the unemployment line…or do his airgun reviews full time.

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