May 16, 2016

WildHelp is now available!

By Rebecca Dmytryk




Throughout my thirty-plus years in the field of wildlife rescue and rehabilitation, two factors that influence whether wildlife casualties live or die have remained problematic - getting finders, people who find wild animals in trouble - getting them proper instruction before they take matters into their own hands, and getting them in touch with the closest, most qualified wildlife professional, quickly.

For the last three years, I've been working on a project called WildHelp - a mobile app designed to do just that. 

This morning, we received word from Apple that the final version of WildHelp had been approved and it would be available to the public through the iTunes App Store within hours. I can't describe how excited I was. Finally, after three years!

It was back in 2012, when I was speaking with Matthew Castronova of IVR Technology Group in New York, the company that hosts WES' wildlife hotline - we were talking about the possibility of expanding the phone tree when he said, "If you dream it, we can build it." 

Well, thanks to the many contributors through our Kickstarter campaign, a couple of very generous donations, and IVR's amazing development team, here it is - WildHelp - available for iPhones and iPads! More about the app can be found on the official website, wildhelp.org.


While the app's main function is to connect finders with the nearest expert (geolocated off the user's phone), it does SO much more...

Behind 'the screens', WildHelp collects the input from the finder - what type of animal, its age, condition, the possible cause of its injury - they can even add a picture. Once the finder chooses which wildlife professional to contact, the app sends the data to that individual or organization in an email, with an optional text, alerting them of the incoming call and Finder's Report.  

For wildlife rescuers and rehabilitators, pictures are invaluable in helping them identify a species and assess an animal's condition. 

Having GPS coordinates on where an animal was discovered will be tremendously helpful for first responders in locating them.

Imagine how helpful this app will be during an oil spill, where the public is encouraged to report oiled wildlife, but where it can be difficult to describe a location exactly, especially if the animal is in brush, or tucked in riprap, or along a vast beach with few landmarks. Now, with WildHelp, responders will have GPS coordinates to guide them to the rescue.




Another special feature is the Rescue Alert - emergency instructions and first aid tips to help keep finders safe and to reduce further harm to the animal. 

Depending on the type of animal being reported, it's age and circumstances, the user may be presented with information, like how to keep a baby animal warm, or how to get ducklings out of a pool, or how to tell if a baby animal really needs rescuing. 

This instruction will, hopefully, reduce the number of healthy baby animals 'kidnapped' by well-intentioned finders, and increase the number of debilitated animals that survive to be admitted to a wildlife hospital or shelter.

That said, however, wild animals that are turned over to animal shelters but never make to a licensed rehabilitator often go undocumented - the cause of the animal's demise goes unreported. Now, through WildHelp, we'll be able to track how many wild animals are reportedly found, for example, tangled in fishing line, struck by vehicles, or attacked by dogs or cats.

Thinking big, imagine if we could take WIldHelp internationally. Imagine how the app could be used to report wildlife crimes, illegal animal trade, poaching...

If you'd like to test the app, please do so, but when given the responder list to choose from, select FOR TESTING ONLY. If that option is not available, email me and I'll be happy to add it.

If you'd like to support this project by volunteering - we're going to need help managing our extensive database of wildlife professionals. Donations are also greatly appreciated to help us maintain WildHelp and make advances, such as expanding the app to other countries.

A huge Thank You! to everyone who helped make WildHelp a reality!

If you're in Los Angeles, we're holding an official Launch Party in Malibu on Tuesday, May 24th. By invitation only. Please contact me if you'd like to be added to the guest list.