Spring is here, which means you’ll see an increase in wildlife activity, including the presence of baby animals. It’s also a time of year where wildlife centers are inundated with calls and visits from concerned people who believe a baby animal has been abandoned when that often isn’t the case. It’s natural to want to help an animal, but human intervention can sometimes do more harm than good, like the case where a baby bison had to be euthanized after humans put him in their car because they thought the bison looked cold. Or the countless other cases where people have taken animals from the wild in an attempt to “rescue” them.
Determining whether an animal is truly at risk can be difficult, especially if there aren’t visible signs of injury. And the last thing you want to do is take a baby away from their mother unless absolutely necessary. By taking the time to learn about when you should (and should not) intervene, you can prevent common mistakes and ensure you’re only helping wild animals who are truly in need of assistance.
The Mistaken Case of Abandonment
Several species, including rabbits, deer, and foxes, will leave their young unsupervised for several hours while they hunt or forage for food. These long absences are also a way for them to prevent attracting predators to the nesting area. But far too often, people mistakenly believe these animals have been abandoned, so they bring them to a wildlife center. If an animal is visibly injured, it’s important to call a licensed wildlife rehabilitator, but how can you tell whether an animal has been abandoned?
If a rabbit nest appears to be abandoned, the Humane Society of the United States recommends using a few pieces of string to create an “X” on top of the nest; if the strings remain undisturbed 24 hours later it means the babies were likely abandoned or something has happened to the mother. If that’s the case, call a wildlife rehabilitation center for advice on how to transport the babies to them safety.
When baby squirrels fall out of their nest, the mother will retrieve them, though it might take some time if she’s away collecting food. It’s recommended that you leave the squirrel alone and keep pets away until the mother returns. If the baby doesn’t have any fur, you can place it in a small basket or box to help them stay warm — just make sure you leave the container open and uncovered so the mom can find the little one.
For fawns, fox kits, and other larger animals, you can monitor them from afar for a day or two to see if the mother returns. Just don’t get too close; mothers will not approach if humans are nearby. If you don’t see the parents return to the nesting area, or the animals appear to be sick or in distress, then you should call a rehabilitation center for help.
Baby birds can sometimes fall out of their nest, or accidentally be pushed out. The Wildlife Rehabilitation Center of Minnesota’s website states that baby birds who are featherless or only have a downy coat can be gently picked up and placed back in the nest. It’s also common to see young birds hop along the ground as they learn how to fly. Unless they’re injured, it’s best to leave them alone.
Be Aware of the Risks and Leave Rehabilitation to the Experts
Interacting with wild animals poses serious risks to both humans and animals. A frightened animal might try to bite or scratch in an effort to defend itself, putting you at risk of injury — and the scared animal can further injure themselves in an attempt to escape. Diseases like rabies can also be transmitted by certain species if animals aren’t properly handled.
Never take the animal into your home in an attempt to rehabilitate them yourself or keep them as a pet. Wild animals require special care, and if they are sick or injured, they need the help of a veterinarian who specializes in wildlife care. And special precautions need to be made to ensure the animal will survive when it’s released back into the wild.
If you see an animal that you think needs help, always contact a wildlife rehabilitation center first to ask them what you should do. They’re the experts and will be able to assess the situation and tell you whether the animal is okay or needs to be brought in for care. If you don’t have a rehabilitation center in your area, call your state’s department of natural resources.
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