The Conservation Board gets many calls this time of year concerning young wild animals, and many Wildlife Rehabilitators are also inundated with calls and “rescued” animals. Unfortunately many of the baby animals brought to wildlife rehabilitators are not really “orphans” or inn need of any kind of hospital care. In fact, the wildlife rehabilitator I recently talked to said many of the young animals they have gotten or have fielded calls about have needed no help from humans at all.
Many young animals are still receiving care from their parents, and some are actually already on their own and ready to thrive. Despite what we think and what our natural instinct tells us, the best chance of survival for a wild, young, uninjured animal is often to leave it in its parents’ care. Before you “rescue” a wild, baby animal, ask yourself a few questions. Below you will find a few guides for the most commonly encountered baby animals (deer, rabbit and bird). These are also helpful questions/guides for other animals such as raccoons, squirrels and opossums.
Why do many of us make the mistake of thinking these young animals are abandoned or orphaned? My guess is because they are cute, look helpless, seem friendly, and are making some noise that makes us think they are lost/hurt. The parent of this young is usually somewhere nearby, has been scared away by your presence, or has left their young for a time while they search for food. They will return once they see the danger is gone or they have found food.
Many callers say the adults are nowhere to be seen, and they have not seen the adults in hours. They also admit that they have been standing or sitting nearby watching for the adults to return. The presence of a human is a danger to the adult, and they will not return while you are nearby. Rabbits will leave their young for a few hours to look for food, and deer will leave their fawns for an entire day at times. This is for the safety of the young that cannot yet keep up with the adults. It is best to leave the area quietly. If you have a young bird that you are afraid your cats or dogs will get on the ground, place it up in a tree, and the parents will care for it. Contrary to popular belief, the adults will not smell you and abandon their young. Birds do not have a keen sense of smell.
If you do happen to find a truly orphaned or injured young animal, it is best to leave it and call a wildlife rehabilitator. Then follow their instructions on how to capture, house and transport the animal. Unless they tell you to, you should not attempt to feed them. The wrong food or water could cause more harm than good. Many wild animals have very sensitive stomachs and require very special diets. Baby animals can also easily aspirate, which can lead to pneumonia or death.
In short, taking animals out of the wild without the proper, specialized permit is illegal, and the best chance a wild animal has at survival is staying in the wild. Unfortunately, the staff at the Wapello County Conservation Board does not have a wildlife rehabilitators permit, but there are at least a couple semi-local rehabilitators around. You can find a list of permitted rehabilitators on the Iowa DNR website.
Be a friend to wildlife, and leave it in the WILD!