What should one do when finding injured or abandoned baby wildlife?
A recent incident at Yellowstone National Park involving two tourists who ignored regulations and transported a bison calf to park rangers because they were afraid it was freezing to death can serve as both a reminder and warning to those in McCreary County who are tempted to approach, feed, take photos with, or help animals in the wild. The Yellowstone calf was eventually euthanized when repeated attempts to re-introduce the calf to its herd were unsuccessful due to the tourists’ intervention. Human interference with young animals can lead to mother animals and herds rejecting the young.
Now that spring has arrived in McCreary County, baby bunnies, squirrels, birds, opossums and other assorted newborns are abundant in the wild. However, Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources (KDFWR) biologist Mike Strunk is quick to caution against interfering with nature and its process.
“Spring is the time of year when we normally see an increase in calls from the public concerning orphaned wildlife,” Strunk shared. “This is the time of year when we have the highest level of young animals in the environment. People pick up seemingly abandoned wildlife with the best of intentions, but do more to harm the animal than help it. As a general rule, wildlife do not make good pets and are not truly abandoned when found in the wild.”
KDFWR Captain Stuart Bryant gives the following advice.
“Not only is interfering with wildlife detrimental to wild animals, but there are Kentucky regulations against taking wildlife, dead or alive, from the wild. Fines can range from $100 to $1, 000,” Bryant cautioned. “Leave wildlife alone. We are especially concerned about deer fawns. If you find a healthy fawn, leave it alone. Believe it or not, the mother is taking care of it. If you find an injured fawn, leave it alone and call us to go to the location of the fawn. Don’t move the fawn. We are especially active in charging those who remove fawns from the wild and then attempt to keep the removal of wildlife hidden.”
During the month of June, KDFWR offices are flooded with calls from landowners who have found fawns alone and fear the mother is dead. According to Strunk, this is rarely the case. Instead it is a normal defense behavior by the mother.
“Fawns are born with little or no scent,” Strunk stated. “By staying in the immediate area of the fawn, the mother reduces the amount of her scent in the area thus reducing the chances of predation on the fawn. The mother will keep her distance, but periodically return throughout the day to allow the fawn to nurse.”
Many humans who “kidnap” baby animals from the wild think they are doing a good deed. However In most cases, the parents are close by and taking care of their young. Many bird species may appear to be helpless when learning to fly by experimentation which involves falling/flying out of the nest. While these baby birds may look as though they need a helping hand, in reality, they are simply learning to be adults. The best course of action for an individual who discovers a young mammal or bird is to not handle the wildlife and keep children and pets away from it. Staying away from the young animal reduces stress on the animal and increases the chance the mother will return to care for it.
“In many cases, a wild animal removed from the wild does not live long,” Strunk commented. “People are no substitute for natural wildlife parents. Not only is the practice detrimental to wildlife, holding native wildlife in captivity is against the law.”
When coming upon injured wildlife, the best course of action is to leave the animal or bird alone, record the location and contact KDFWR dispatch (1-800-25ALERT). Upon receiving a call on an injured animal, KDFWR staff will locate the animal and assess the situation. If feasible KDFWR personnel will take these animals to KDFWR permitted rehabilitators.
Individuals finding injured wildlife can also contact the Liberty Nature Center in Somerset, KY for possible assistance by phoning 606-679-9453. For more information about the Liberty Nature Center, individuals may visit www.libertynaturecenter.org or the Liberty Nature Center Facebook page.