Sustainability Spotlight: Hannah McDougall
Hannah is a Sustainable Millennial who, in a handful of years, has positively impacted the lives of over 5,000 different animals. She is currently a Wildlife Rehabilitator living in Miami, Florida. Hannah has always had a passion for animals and nature—and now she has made a career out of it.
What motivated you to pursue this career path and where do you see yourself in 5 years, 10 years?
I have always loved animals-- I grew up in a rural (ish) part of New Jersey, so I grew up watching the deer in my backyard and seeing baby birds in my flower pots. I have always had an interest in nature but I really didn’t realize that this was a career option until I went to college. I went to the University of Delaware and after my first semester I switched my major to Wildlife Conservation and Ecology, and from there I was looking for Internships. I found an internship in my hometown at the Mercer County Wildlife Center doing wildlife rehabilitation (which up until that point I didn’t know was a career or field at all.) I spent the summer there learning about all of the different local species, their care and all of the human impact that we can have on them. I worked there through college too. Then after graduation, I was offered a position in Miami, Florida at the Pelican Harbor Seabird Station which is where I am now. So ultimately in five years I would like to still be in the field. My goal is to manage my own clinic and in the future be the director of my own clinic. I want to make a difference.
Could you give me a little bit of background on what you do on a day to day basis? I know that it likely depends on the day.
Wildlife Rehabilitation is essentially the husbandry and medical care of sick, injured, or orphaned wildlife. So the patients we receive can range from a two-week-old baby squirrel, to a seagull with a broken wing, to a hawk with rodenticide poisoning. So every day is different and that’s what I love about it. The day always starts with monitoring all of the patients, weighing, making appropriate changes to their care or their diets, and medications. This can mean anything from tube feedings, bottle feedings, subcutaneous fluids, deciding medications, giving medications, splinting breaks, dressing wounds. Depending on the state of the animal and how debilitated they are, they have different feeding requirements. It’s a lot of cleaning, it’s a lot of poop, a lot of monitoring things, and making changes to their care to get them on the right path. Never a dull moment.
How many animals do you think you have made an impact on through your work? Just a rough estimate since it could be tricky to get an exact number.
I would say at least 5,000 animals I have had the opportunity to have my hands on and work with. Never really thought about that but that's a lot! [Editor’s Note: That’s incredible!]
What advice would you offer to readers that you help them live more sustainably based on experiences that you have had in your field? Maybe something they could change in their daily routines?
That's hard because there are so many human-related impacts. I mean with cars-- we can drive more carefully. Overall just being more conscious of what's around us. A lot of people think it's our world and wildlife live in it. When in reality it has been their world for years and years and years before it has been ours. All the things we do are impacting their world and not vice-versa. Being aware that even if you don't know they are there, or even think they are there, there is wildlife around you somewhere. There is wildlife everywhere, even in the middle of the city. Everyone should educate themselves more about local wildlife. [Editor’s Note: Click here to learn more about local wildlife in Philly. Check this out to learn more about local wildlife in Hudson County, NJ.]
What can the average person do to help the wildlife around them?
First and foremost. Outdoor cats. They kill more wild birds than any other wild predator combined on Earth [Editor’s note: Wow, I did not know that.] Cats have killed off entire species of birds. [Editor’s note: cats have contributed to the extinction of 63 species of birds, mammals, and reptiles in the wild.] Please keep cats indoors whenever possible. Second, don’t inappropriately interact with animals that should be in the wild. Third, (I know I am somewhat bird-focused right now), plant native plants. Birds don’t eat non-native seeds or berries or anything like that. So, if you plant more native shrubs or trees, you will attract more native birds. And then they can use your house as a stopping point while they are migrating. Simple as that. It’s fairly easy to find native plants. [Editor’s Note: Click here to learn more about native plants in Philadelphia, and here for New Jersey.]
What has been one of the worst cases of a patient that you have received in terms of an animal needing help and support? How did you go about that?
I don’t know, there have been so many. We get a lot of gunshot wounds. A hawk had gotten shot and fractured its humerus. That took a long time since we had to pin the bone. We get pelicans in a lot. We had one last week. He had five hooks on the outside of him, like on his wings and stuff. And then we x-rayed him and we saw that he had hooks inside too-- he had five hooks and a weight inside. We had to go in manually, to remove them.
[Editor’s Note: Clean up after yourself. By leaving a plastic water bottle on a park bench, someday, it will find its way into the ocean, and could end up being eaten by a sea creature. If you’re fishing, make sure you take all of your tools/hooks back with you. Just because it’s out of your sight and mind, doesn’t mean that it won’t impact a different living being that you share your environment with.]
Would you say that plastic is having an impact on your work? Do you find that our consumption habits are influencing the natural wildlife in the area?
Definitely. I’d say it mostly impacts the shorebirds because obviously, the trash accumulates at the shorelines. Shorebirds are all of those little birds that are picking through trying to eat crustaceans and small invertebrates and stuff like that. So this happens especially as the plastics break down and eventually become microplastics. All they know is what is given to them from the ocean is food. So they see these microplastics on the shore and they have no knowledge what plastic is. They ingest them and it’s often fatal for them. If not when first ingested by them, over their lifetime, the majority of the seabirds have some sort of plastic in them when they die.
Is your group open to volunteers? How do you suggest people get involved if this is something that sparks their interest?
Yes. Wildlife rehabilitation centers cannot work without volunteers. I have never heard of any that don't need volunteers. Not only are they looking, but they are usually in dire need.
Do you think they need a strong background in the field to help?
No not at all, you just need dedication, a hardworking spirit, and a love for animals.
Hannah is doing some amazing work to help the natural wildlife around her, and we know that many of you are helping the earth in one way or another too! If you or someone you know comes to mind when you think of sustainability, shoot us an email! We love to hear from you, and they could be the next #SustainabilitySpotlight !