The rehabilitation of every animal that is brought into the centre starts immediately. Before you can do anything with the animal, it is vital to stabilize the animal first and making sure it will be able to survive. Most animals that arrive at the centre are highly stressed which can make it difficult to handle them without causing more problems..
After a couple of days most newly arrived animals are used to their new home and I can start to make a plan for their further rehabilitation. The rehabilitation process is different for every specie, however I mostly work with primates. Other species like duikers, bushbuck, owls or other birds cross my path as well.
First, the newly arrived animal stays into quarantine for a couple of weeks in order to determine whether the animal is healthy and not carrying any infectious bacteria or viruses. During the quarantine period I already try to identify the character of the animal, taking his or her background into account. This is not really easy to do, since there is no interaction with other animals. Still I can identify many things like: how the animal moves around, how the animal eats, how the animal interacts with people or how the animal responds to other stimuli. It is for example possible that the animal has problems eating or the animal is still very stressed which decreases its immune system and learning capabilities or during the quarantine period I identify that the animal appears to be apathic or showing abnormal behaviour. All these things are important for me since this gives me an idea what the overall condition of the animal is and I can start making further plans to rehabilitate the animal.
In general when I start rehabilitating primates into groups we can identify different phases. These are general guidelines I follow. But believe me when I say that rehabilitating animals never goes according to your well prepared plan or guidelines.
Phase 1: The new animal
Integration always starts in the night/inside enclosures. The new animal or animals are placed into the night enclosure while the group get access to a night and outside enclosure adjacent to the other one. This allows the animals to have contact (visual, tactile, auditory and olfactory), however real physical contact is prevented by the mesh. This provides the animals the opportunity to get familiar with each other without the risk of physical aggression. The group and new animal(s) will be observed in order to determine which animal will get physically introduced first.
Phase 2: Introducing group members inside
The chosen animal(s) that will be introduced first to the new animal(s) are taken inside the adjacent night enclosure. Generally, the chosen animal(s) are the more dominant animals of the group with who the new animal(s) had some positive interaction with during the first phase. First they are placed in the two separate night enclosures before the hatch will be opened after some time. New animals will be introduced gradually after the tension and/or aggression has decreased and the animals are settled down. During the whole day and following days observations of the animals inside and outside take place.
If animals do not show any positive interaction or tension and aggression does not decrease, the new animal(s) will be separated again. If possible, the new animal(s) will be introduced to another group or another plan on how to integrate the new animal(s) will be discussed. These plans are very individualistic and therefore no further details on these procedures can be given, since there is no set format.
For some new animals that have problems showing normal primate behaviour phase two will take longer. It is important to learn and copy normal primate behaviour since this will increase the change of getting integrated in a group. New animals get the time during the integration process to learn from other animals. Still, some new animals have problems learning these behaviours or even do not seem to progress. If animals do not show enough or any progress and it is likely that they cannot be integrated in any group in the centre because they will not be accepted, euthanizing is an option.
Phase 3: Releasing new animal(s) into the outside enclosure
After the new animal(s) is introduced to as many group members as thought to be necessary, the new animal(s) will be released into the outside enclosure. If there are group members the animal or animals do not know yet, these unknown animals are placed into another night enclosure in order for the new animal(s) to get familiar with the environment without being chased around. This serves to prevent animals from escaping. Since integrating a new animal or multiple animals can change the relations between animals, aggression and chasing will occur which will increase the change of animals escaping. Therefore precaution measures are always taken with these integrations. Many people are positioned along the fence in order to observe and keep the animals in.
The rest of the group will be slowly added when the new animal(s) have settled down in their new outside enclosure. Observations take place as long as necessary and at least until all group members are introduced to the new animal(s) and they are fully integrated into the group. The amount of time needed for these integrations varies.