Due to many reasons like loss of habitat, decreasing prey densities, illegal poaching and the increasing illegal wildlife and pet trade, wildlife is facing more risks these days. Wildlife rehabilitation centres have their hands full taking care of sick, injured and orphaned wildlife which is a costly and time consuming process. The animals that are been taken care of are not only inflicted with stress (since they are living in captivity and handled by humans) and injuries but they can also suffer from traumatic experiences.
As we can see in the western world, we are now shifting from our standard routes and we are looking for alternatives or even complementary therapies in order to support not only ourselves but also animals. We are realizing that there is more than the conventional chemical medicines, also known in general as naturopathy or referred to as natural medicine. Some familiar therapies are for instance: homeopathy, herbs, acupuncture and the use of essential oils for many mental and physical health problems. However, naturopathy is more than just using natural remedies. It is also about using the body’s innate healing system, looking at natural behaviour, the environment and treating the cause of a problem not the symptoms. Body, mind and soul are connected and must be looked at and treated as one, like we used to do many years ago. Naturopathy is in fact as old as ancient times and today it is increasingly being used to improve the health and welfare of pets and livestock with great success.
Wild animals know how to use specific plants, insects, soils and fungi to prevent them from becoming sick or even use it as a curative medicine. This is also known as zoopharmacognosy: self-medication by non-human animals. You can even see this behaviour in domestic animals. Think about the dog or cat that eat specific grass when they feel unwell for instance. This is just a simple example, however researchers are focusing more and more on this phenomena and predominantly observe wild primates in the wild and their foraging behaviour. By observing these animals, researchers discover new plants, their constituents and the medicinal values. This information is used to derive new medicines for the western world, so we are not inventing we are learning from nature!
Wildlife is so close to nature: their systems are often so pure (not effected yet by chemicals and vaccinations) this makes it easier for naturopathic remedies to do their job. In the meantime, using only natural remedies keeps the systems of these animals clean, which is also better for the environment when they are released back into the wild.
But why is there hardly any information on the use of naturopathy in combination with wildlife? What is the future of wildlife that is traumatized or show seriously disturbed behaviour? What kind of treatment do these animals receive in order to get them stabilized and can they be released back in the wild? How can naturopathy help them as well?
Research & work
I was thinking about all these questions and decided to combine my two passions naturopathy & wildlife and write my dissertation about this subject. After studying for nearly five years in order to graduate as a Veterinary Naturopathic Therapist and whilst studying I treated many animals with physical, behavioural problems and underlying traumatic experiences. I travelled all the way to Malawi to gain more insight on how naturopathy can increase the welfare of wildlife and improve efficiency in the work methods of the Lilongwe Wildlife Trust while working as the rehabilitation coordinator.
The beauty of this work is that rehabilitating animals involves a holistic view. Every aspect that is related to the animal can and will have an effect on the rehabilitation process. The behavioral side is an important aspect; the background of an animal, food, the environment, enclosures, handling, medical treatment etc. also play a vital role. Although I can write a whole book on this, there is a specific thing I would like to address.
This specific thing has to do with traumatized animals. There is often no strict treatment protocol for these animals. They get food, comfort, a stable environment and if possible a buddy to keep them company. In most cases, time is needed before these animals stabilize and hopefully they can get integrated within a group. However, for some cases time and rest is not enough and to be more to the point there is no other treatment available. Also, for some individual animals the amount of stress when arriving at the center and dealing with this new surrounding is extremely high. This amount of stress is for each animal different, it depends on certain aspects like their general history, their previous relationship with humans and for example their physical condition. Although we limit these stress factors as much as possible, it is important to always keep this in mind when you deal with each new arrived animal.
When animals arrive that are extremely traumatized and stressed due to their experiences and changes that are happening, there are many naturopathic remedies that can provide these animals some extra support. Bach-flower therapy, homeopathy or for example essential oils, are all therapies that can support and help stabilizing the mental status of the animals. From animals in shock, to aggressive, insecure animals, animals with fear or animals that show no interest in anything. This behavior is often not natural and can cause serious problems and stagnate the rehabilitation process. It can cause fights and unrest in groups, which is obviously unwanted. Furthermore an animal that shows unnatural behavior will have lower changes of survival in the wild. It is therefore important to support these animals in order to stabilize and balance them and time and the right environment is not always enough. The type of remedy or the combination of remedies that is suitable for an individual animal depends on the character of the animal, the history and their behavior.
Treatment and results
Several animals at the Lilongwe Wildlife Trust have received different naturopathic therapies in order to provide more support during their rehabilitation process. Treatment protocols differed from using Bach-flower remedy and essential oils depending on the situation and background of the animal. For most cases animals showed significant improvements in their behavior which resulted in an easier and faster rehabilitation process. For example a young vervet that arrived highly stressed and traumatized at the center which made it extremely difficult for him to settle down and get used to his new surroundings. After treating the young vervet for some weeks with different naturopathic remedies he stabilized. The young vervet was able to relax and got comfortable even when people where cleaning his enclosure. Another case of a baboon who was rocking up and down whenever people where near him, improved by showing less stereotype and more calm behavior. Other treated animals improved in being more independent, less scared or they showed more social behavior after being treated. In combination with choosing the right environment it was easier to re-socialize these animals.
Like with all things that are relatively new and undiscovered or not fully documented, we need more research in order to tell this story. This is a first start in order to show what potential naturopathy has in supporting and improving the welfare of for example traumatized wildlife. The use of naturopathy for animals is becoming more widely accepted, we are seeing the positive results but it is rather limited to the common domestic animals like: dogs, cats, rabbits, horses and some cattle. If we want to support wildlife, we need to start working with them as well. The knowledge is available and as mentioned before there is more to explore, the question is how are we going to utilize this knowledge?