Become a Wildlife Rehabilitator or Care Provider

What is a Wildlife Rehabilitator?

A wildlife rehabilitator is a person licensed by the Commonwealth of Virginia (and in some cases by the Federal Government as well) to rehabilitate sick, injured and orphaned wildlife in order to release them back into the wild. In Virginia, most wildlife rehabilitators work from their own homes. They do not receive payment for their services. Care Providers assist rehabilitators, but do not keep animals in their homes. Rehabilitators must be at least 18 years old; care providers, at least 16 years old.

Steps to Becoming a Rehabilitator

Wildlife Rescue League offers advice on how to begin your journey to obtain one of three Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources (VDWR) wildlife rehabilitation permits: 1) apprentice (Category I) 2) ,rehabilitator (Category II), and 3) care provider (Category IV). Care Providers must be age 16 or older and apprentices and rehabilitators must be 18 years or older. All permittees must be Virginia residents. Two additional VDWR permits include Wildlife Hospitals (Category IV) and Student/Interns (Category V). If you’re interested in one of the latter two permits, please reach out directly to VDWR for more information.

VDWR is responsible for the permit process and the best source of information regarding wildlife rehabilitation permits. You can access their website to learn all about the Virginia program for wildlife rehabilitation. For further information on the VDWR permit process, WRL is happy to answer questions about permit requirements and next steps.

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Learn about Wildlife Rehabilitation

Read the articles on this website about wildlife rehabilitation. Visit a wildlife or nature center to learn more about Virginia’s native wildlife. This will help you decide what species you are best suited to care for. In Virginia, rehabilitators are licensed to care for reptiles, mammals and birds. Rehabilitation of migratory birds also requires a permit from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

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Ensure you meet the physical requirements to rehabilitate wildlife in your home

Read the VDWR Permit Conditions and learn what is required in terms of setting up your own wildlife rehabilitation facility. This is one of the key determiners for whether you are ready to be a Category I apprentice with your own facility, or whether you need to instead consider a Category IV care provider permit to care for animals in another rehabilitator’s facility.. Please take this important step before you reach out to a potential rehabilitation sponsor.
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Evaluate your current lifestyle

Consider your current lifestyle and the amount of time you have to commit to rehabilitation. Do you work full-time and travel frequently? You may want to consider a Category IV permit as a care provider, or look for a sponsor who rehabilitates a species that is self-sufficient during the day (e.g., turtles). Do you work from home, or could you bring in baby wildlife to your employment setting? Are you retired and have more availability to rehabilitate wildlife? Be self-aware of how much time you can dedicate to wildlife if you choose to get a permit.

Answers to these questions will influence what will and won’t work for you, as well as shape your expectations of timing for your journey to become a wildlife rehabilitator.

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Find a Sponsor for your Permit

To obtain a Category I apprentice permit, you must undergo a two year apprenticeship with an actively permitted VDWR Category II or III rehabilitator or wildlife center. This rehabilitator is known as your “sponsor.” This permit requires a home inspection by VDWR to ensure you have the appropriate facilities, caging and other considerations for keeping wildlife in your home or other facility. To obtain a Category IV care provider permit, you must identify the specific facility where you will be caring for wildlife, which can be the home-based facility of a Category I, II or III permittee, or a wildlife center. There is no home inspection required for a Cat IV permittee since you won’t be taking wildlife to your premises.
If you are in the Northern Virginia and surrounding areas, WRL will assist you in contacting local rehabilitators to see if there is a match between your interests and their needs. If you are interested, please contact the chair of our WRL Rehabilitator Committee at rehabilitatorchair@wildliferescueleague.org.

If you live elsewhere in Virginia, you can look for a permitted rehabilitator near you at Virginia DWR or nationally at National Wildlife Rehabilitators Association. Be respectful of the rehabilitator’s time, as they are volunteers and prioritize their time for the care and feeding of wildlife.

If you would like to rehabilitate migratory birds, you will also require a Federal permit from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Services (USFWS) and will need a sponsor that has the same.

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Complete 6 Hours of Continuing Education

You will require proof of six hours of continuing education prior to submitting your application to VDWR. WRL provides wildlife-themed educational seminars and other resources and can help you obtain your continuing education certificates. In addition, there are many educational programs available on the internet and through Virginia wildlife centers.
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Apply for a State Permit

Once you have a commitment from a permitted rehabilitator to sponsor you, you can download the application from the VDWR website. Sponsoring rehabilitators must sign your Category I apprentice application. Category IV care provider applications must list the address of the facility at which you will be caring for animals.

After filing for a Category I apprentice permit, a VDWR CPO (Conservation Police Officer) will perform an in-home visit, and once approved, you may begin caring for healthy and orphaned animals in your home.

Frequently Asked Questions

Do rehabilitators get paid?
No, rehabilitators may not charge for their services. They may, however, accept donations if they are incorporated as a non-profit organization with a Federal tax-exempt status. Many organizations such as WRL, local animal rescue, local businesses, etc. also donate supplies, caging, food, and other items to their local wildlife rehabilitators.
How long does it take to become a licensed rehabilitator?
It takes a minimum of two years of apprenticeship to gain enough hands-on experience and knowledge to become a licensed rehabilitator. The sponsoring rehabilitator is responsible for determining when the apprentice is ready to be on his/her own, so the time may vary depending on how much time you personally put into your apprentice. FYI, a care provider does not take wildlife home, but the apprentice can take healthy, non-injured or sick wildlife home at the discretion of their sponsor.
Are there costs involved in becoming a rehabilitator?
Anyone who is or has been a rehabilitator will counsel a prospective applicant that you need to be willing to spend your own money before you embark on this journey. As mentioned above, there are sources of funding for a rehabilitator, but it’s rare if there are not out-of-pocket costs for the apprentice and rehabilitator. Start-up and yearly costs differ depending on the species you care for and the volumes that you take in each year. Please discuss this question further with your sponsor before you commit yourself to an apprenticeship, so you enter your journey with realistic expectations.
What are the requirements for caging and facilities?

Please read the VDWR Permit Conditions for specifics on caging and facilities. Short answer is that you need a space in your home dedicated to the care of wildlife with a) a door, b) away from the main living area, and c) the understanding that your family and pets will not access this space. The size of the space will vary depending on the type of animals you rehabilitate and your caging requirements. Your sponsor will advise you on the specifics, so you are ready for the home inspection by the game warden. Any outdoor caging may also need to be in place for your inspection.

What is Wildlife Rehabilitator Code of Ethics?

Interested in becoming a Wildlife Rehabilitator or Caregiver?

Check out the Department of Wildlife Resources website for more information.

If you are from the Northern Virginia area and surrounding counties, apply to volunteer with WRL.

Wildlife Rescue League - Viriginia
Wildlife Helpline 703-440-0800