People Advised To Think Twice About Picking Up Young Animals
Spring is the season of re-birth when many wildlife species come into the world. As people venture outside in the warm weather, they may find newborn wildlife in their yards, along trails, or in open space areas. As tempting as it may be to “help” a young animal by picking it up, or by trying to give it food or water, for wildlife babies, there is no substitute for their natural parents.
It seems counter intuitive, but according to wildlife experts, it is normal to find young wild animals without an adult animal nearby. Well-meaning people sometimes scoop up baby wildlife and bring them to wildlife rehabilitation facilities, veterinary clinics, or Colorado Division of Wildlife offices, but experts say that is the wrong thing to do.
If you find young wildlife, enjoy a quick glimpse, leave the animal where it is, and keep pets out of the area. “The best thing to do if you are concerned is to quietly observe the animal from a distance using binoculars. Don’t hover so close that the wild parents are afraid to return to the area,” advises Colorado Division of Wildlife Officer Jeromy Huntington.
“If several hours go by and the parent does not return, it is possible the newborn was abandoned or the parent is dead (hit by a car, for example) then report it to the Division of Wildlife. Do not move the animal yourself,” he said.
Donna Ralph of the non-profit Ellicott Wildlife Rehabilitation Center agrees. “Many of the animals we get should have never been picked up in the first place,” said Ralph. “They would have had a better chance for survival if left in the care of the parent animal.”
“The sooner the animal can be released back to where it came from the better,” she explained. “Make sure you provide your contact information so we can let it go in the same place you found it.”
Ralph said her center has already taken in many small mammals this year including several fox kits. “Baby foxes don’t look like most people would expect them to look like. They are very small, very dark (almost black) and appear to be very kitten like. People who find them think they might be baby raccoons, skunks, or something else.”
Ralph’s advice: Don’t try to feed them. Don’t put anything into their mouths. Contact the DOW, a veterinarian, or licensed wildlife rehabilitator to give these babies the care they need.
“Whatever you do, don’t try to keep the animal as a pet,” she said. “It is illegal to keep wild animals in captivity unless you are a licensed wildlife rehabilitator. “
Right now, wildlife centers are taking in small mammals, but as the season progresses, people will bring in newly hatched birds that have fallen from their nest. Experts recommend returning them to the nest if you can do so safely, or placing them on a high branch to keep them away from pets. It is an old wives tale that birds will reject their young if people touch them. Birds have little sense of smell.
“If you are not able to reach the nest, put the bird in a small box and attach it as to close to the nest as you can. It is a lot easier, and more successful, when the parent birds feed and care for their babies than when humans try to do so,” Ralph said.
Picking up wildlife is not only detrimental for the animal; it can be risky for people, too. According to Huntington, most people have good intentions when they pickup wildlife, but are unaware of the risks associated with handling wild animals. Wild animals can carry rabies, distemper or other illnesses. It is also possible for the animals to carry fleas that might subsequently spread disease to humans or pets.
Cute baby raccoons and skunks will grow up to be big problems if you illegally “adopt” a foundling. “You are putting yourself and your family at risk. You can be ticketed and the animal will be taken away,” he cautioned.
Human-raised and hand-fed animals rarely can be returned to the wild because they have imprinted on humans or because they lack survival skills. Licensed wildlife rehabilitators are trained to use methods that will give a wild animal the best chance of surviving upon release.
Despite the fact that wildlife is usually best left alone, there are instances in which people find injured or orphaned wildlife that needs help. If this happens, call the DOW for assistance.
For more information, visit the DOW web site at www.colorado.gov/wildlife or call your local Colorado Division of Wildlife Office.