Leave Wildlife Alone
Inside the Outdoors, May 25, 2009

What do Mary of Marguerite, Barb of Blairsville, and Cindy of Latrobe all have in common? Each of them has that maternal instinct in them whereby they bore children and cradled them until they grew up to be fine human beings.

But as human nature has it, whenever people find young wildlife away from the parents, where the mother is no where to be seen, women, such as the three mentioned, and in some cases men, will scoop up the newborn and put it in some kind of box, and try to raise it as if it was a little child cast among the leaves or found in the backyard somewhere. There are a couple of problems there. First, baby birds, chipmunks or rabbits should never be taken away from where they may have been noticed, and second, the mother may be close at hand watching over the young, but may not be seen.

Most of all, the Pennsylvania Game Commission officials, in addition to yours truly, encourage outdoor enthusiasts to leave wildlife alone.

PGC Bureau of Wildlife Management Director Calvin W. DuBrock points out that “Young deer, raccoons and other wildlife appear to be abandoned, but rest assured, that in most cases, the young animal is not, or an orphan, and the best thing you can do is leave it alone.” Does that sound familiar? Here are several reasons one may find animals away from their nesting areas according to the PGC representative.

Sometimes the young are left alone so that their parents can go out and forage for food.
“Wildlife often relies on a natural defensive tactic,” he said, “called the “hider strategy,” where young animals will remain motionless and “hide” in surrounding cover while adults draw the attention of predators or other intruders away from their young.”

Thus, the adults aren’t abandoning their young at all, but interestingly enough; the adults are using their natural instincts to protect their offspring.

On top of that, DuBrock points out something I wish people, including young children, their parents and grandparents would realize, “Wild animals are not meant to be pets, and we must all resist our well-meaning and well-intentioned urge to want to care for wildlife. Taking wildlife from its natural settings and into your home may expose or transmit wildlife diseases to people or domestic animals. Wildlife also may carry parasites – such as fleas, ticks or lice – that you wouldn’t want infesting you, your family, your home or your pets.”

With that said, it always seems to occur yearly that I get a call from someone asking how they can raise an abandoned bird, most likely a robin. When I tell the people they should have just left it there, I think they must have thought I was callous.

A matter of fact, I, too, feel very close to animals and want to cart home every rabbit I see. When I was young, I had a pet white rabbit. When it grew to be an adult, I gave it away to my neighbor friend. The nice thing about that was that I could still visit it daily.

But that was a store bought animal, and not one we trapped in a box trap that were so plentiful when I grew up. I think the devices got more sophisticated, I really don’t know. I bought one several years ago to catch squirrels since they were in abundance in my back yard. Now, I have few. Go figure.

Anyway, DuBrock says that people ignore the advice given each year and do what they’re not supposed to do – take the wildlife into homes exposing the diseases they may be carrying, such as rabies. And what happens in the end? Despite the well-meaning of individuals, “In nearly all cases, he noted, “the animals have to be put down in the interest of protecting public health.” Now, doesn’t that defeat the whole purpose of the great so-called rescue efforts? In addition to protecting public health, Game commission Bureau of Wildlife Protection Director Rich Palmer said that the agency also is concerned with wildlife implications from humans handling wildlife.

“Habituating wildlife to humans is a serious concern, because if wildlife loses its natural fear of humans it can pose a public safety risk,” Palmer said. “For example, a few years ago, a yearling, six-point buck attacked and severely injured a Clinton County couple. Our investigation revealed that a neighboring family had illegally harbored and fed the deer as a fawn, and had continued to do so up until the time of the attack.”

Also, there is that threat of rabies, once again. One cannot tell just by looking at an animal what a rabid animal looks like. And yes, some will foam at the mouth or act vicious, but others will be quiet and still or simply appear uncoordinated or unafraid.

Here is something definitely worth noting. It is illegal to take or possess wildlife from the wild. Under state law, the penalty for such a violation is a fine of up to $1,500 per animal. Palmer continued, “Under no circumstances will anyone who illegally takes wildlife into captivity be allowed to keep that animal. While residents love to view wildlife and are very compassionate, they must enjoy wildlife from a distance and allow nature to run its course.”

So next time you see a baby bird or bunny, leave it alone, as hard as it may be.

- Paul J. Volkmann
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