Don't Take Wildlife Home
Inside the Outdoors, July 02, 2010

Every so often when it gets around spring, I hear about people taking home birds that have fallen out of nests, or abandoned to struggle on their own. I really think most people know that they should leave these creatures alone.

But with that said, recently I received word that a number of people decided to take upon themselves to make “endearing” baby raccoons pets that were found abandoned by parents and left to confront life on their own.

Before I get to the facts of the matter as supplied by Jerry Feaser, press secretary for the Pennsylvania Game Commission, I want to relate three very different stories that I was told and even witnessed.

The first was passed on to me in my growing up years. It seemed that a couple owned and raised a coon ever since it was little. As it matured, it totally wrecked the inside of the house, particularly the kitchen area. It got into all the food substances and scattered them all about. I was always hearing reports about how this critter was causing havoc to the living quarters, but the animal remained more or less as a dog or cat would, I guess, with very much the same status.

Then, there was this fellow that, upon cutting down a tree, found three young raccoons hidden within the trunk’s confines. Noticing there was no mother or father in sight, he took them into his possession, raising them as though they were young kittens. They have since grown to the size of mature cats. Learning that it was illegal to keep these animals, he took measures to see that they were cared for properly.

Third, there was a more disturbing story. A guy and a girl were driving down a road when all of a sudden the noticed a mother and babies up ahead. Coming to an abrupt halt, the teenage driver jumped out of his vehicle and rushed over and scooped up the last baby and took it back to the car and gave it to his girlfriend as a gift. The mother was infuriated to say the least. Both youths could be in for a shocking surprise as the animal matures.

According to Calvin W. DuBrock, Game Commission Bureau of Wildlife management director, “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.”

He went on to add, “Handling these animals can result in exposure to rabies and require that someone undergo treatment as a precaution, especially if the animal can’t be captured for testing.”

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 two people. Our investigations revealed that a neighboring family had illegally taken the deer into their
home and fed it as a fawn. This family continued to feed the deer right up to the point of the attack.”

Palmer noted that it is illegal to take or possess wildlife from the wild. Under state law the penalty for such violation is a fine up to $1,500 per animal.

“Under no circumstance will anyone who illegally takes wildlife into captivity be allowed to keep that animal,” Palmer said. “While residents love to view wildlife, and are very compassionate, they must also enjoy wildlife from a distance and allow nature to run its course.”

Dubrock concluded by stating, “Animals infected with rabies may not show obvious symptoms, but still may be able to transmit the disease. People can get rabies from the saliva of a rabid animal if they are bitten or scratched, or the saliva gets into the person’s eyes, mouth or fresh wound."

- Paul J. Volkmann
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