Hi All, I've had a few enquiries lately about when and how animals that have been cared for are released back into the wild. So thought I'd put a post up here suggesting and explaining the importance of getting this right.
In general, there are two types of release, hard and soft (honest this is not about German movies!!) and there is a big difference between the two. Hard release is generally what rescuers and rehabbers do with animals that come in as casualties; animal comes in with something wrong, it's treated, rehabilitated and released back to where it came from. As I said this a general description and other factors could facilitate a casualty being a candidate for soft release i.e, length of rehabilitation etc. Soft release is generally used for any animal that has been orphaned and needs to be hand reared or have a fair amount of human contact. These animals have no knowledge of the big outside world or how to cope in the wild; since they were tiny we have replaced their parents, fed them, cared for them, weaned them and got them to a stage where release back to the wild is considered. This to me is one of the most important parts of rehabilitating wildlife; if we get the release wrong then all the hard work put in to ensure the animal is ready will be completely wasted and undone. Soft release is all about acclimatising the animal to it's natural environment and allowing natural instincts to develop to ensure the best chance of survival for the animal. Basically, soft release is about setting up a controlled natural environment to aid this transition; it would probably start with an enclosure suitable for the animal to explore it's natural surroundings with the extreme minimum of human contact if any at all. Once in an appropriate enclosure all the human involvement should be is to provide food and water to allow the animal to become 'wild'. Depending on the species this period in an enclosure could last probably between 2 - 6 weeks. After this time the entrance to the enclosure is permanently left open, food is still provided, however, the animal is now free to leave when it likes. Providing food still, allows the animal a choice and, until it's fully learnt to feed for itself, a guaranteed meal that it can come back to. Food is gradually stopped and hopefully a successful transition and subsequent release has taken place.
It has to be remembered that orphaned hand reared animals have not had the benefit of Mum to teach them how to hunt or kill prey, forage for food; they have not felt grass or run up trees, would not seen a bird or a worm; they have most likely been kept in a cage, glass tank or wooden pen so to release them straight into the wild is going to be more stressful than anything else. Remember how you felt being left on your first day of school, everything unfamiliar, new and daunting. It is our responsibility as rescuers/rehabbers to ensure the best possible start to their wild lives as possible; this means know and understand the species you are dealing; if you've reared or rescued an animal you now have the responsibility to ensure it has the best chance possible to survive in the wild, we can never replace Mum, but we can do our utmost to ensure they have the best chance we can provide. If you are unsure do your research or just ask someone who knows, please don't guess. Most rehab organisations are more than willing to help no matter how big or small they are.
It is very important that animals are released back to where they were found, including youngsters which have had to be reared. There is definitely a responsibility to ensure the development of species within different areas to ensure the natural balance is kept. There are probably a few exceptions, but in general they should all go back to where they come from. Also soft release has to be adapted to the species you are rearing, that's where knowledge about that species comes in to play.
Sorry for going on a bit and length of the post...to me this is an extremely important part of the rehab process and could be the difference between survival and being immediately eaten by the first predator that comes along.
Hope you enjoyed the read!!