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A Talk on the Wild Side.

Keep the 'Wild' in Wildlife: Don’t Touch or Feed

fawn
Fawns are often left alone for hours, but that does not mean they're orphaned.  Photo Credit: USFWS

People often think doing nothing is quite easy, but sometimes it can be awfully hard. Many of us want to help wildlife when they appear to be in trouble, but in some cases, we need to redirect these instincts.

Generally, the best thing to do is leave the animal alone. This protects both you and the animal.

Here are some more tips to help you deal with these situations:

  • It is usually illegal to capture or keep wildlife. For example, without a permit, the Migratory Bird Treaty Act makes it unlawful to take, possess, import, export, transport or sell most native bird species, or their parts (including feathers), nests or eggs. However, you are allowed to catch a sick, injured or orphaned migratory bird in order to immediately transport it to a permitted wildlife rehabilitator.
  • Young wildlife usually are not orphaned, even if a parent can’t be seen. For example, deer leave fawns alone for hours to look for food, and baby birds often leave the nest before they can fly, hopping around on the ground for days with the parents sometimes elsewhere getting food.
  • Legal issues aside, wildlife can be dangerous to people and the surrounding environment and don’t make good pets.
  • By trying to help wildlife, you might really be hurting them. A man in Georgia recently saw a manatee out of the water. Concerned it was stuck, the man pushed the manatee back into the water. Scientists said the manatee was very likely just sunbathing on a warm December day.
  • Your “help” could also end up hurting you.
  • Finally, wild animals are hardier than we think.  A recent car commercial depicts a couple “rescuing” a bird from cold weather and driving it south. This type of activity is illegal (unless permitted) and can be dangerous for the humans and the animal. Transferring a bird or other wildlife may disorient it or cause other problems.

Sometimes, though, wildlife definitely need our help. You’ll know a wild animal needs help if it has a visibly broken limb, is bleeding, has a dead parent nearby, or is hopelessly tangled in some manmade object.

If that’s the case, contact a licensed wildlife rehabilitator. They are trained and have permits to care for wildlife. They can tell you what steps can be taken until help arrives. Not only that, but if they are truly in need, many animals require expert attention immediately.

Officer Bare
Federal Wildlife Officer Richard Bare.

That’s what Officer Richard Bare did when he received a call that some baby raccoons were orphaned after their mother was hit by a car. He took them to a wildlife rehabilitation facility.

Bob Murphy osprey
Bob Murphy and the osprey. Photo Credit: Dale Stahlecker

Migratory Bird specialist Bob Murphy did that, too. Last year, while Bob was getting his canoe ready for a canoe trip, a friend spotted an osprey hanging upside down, tangled in fishing line, way up in a nearby pine tree.

Bob eventually climbed the tree and cut away the fishing line. He then carefully placed the bird into a backpack, climbed down the tree and took the bird to a rehabber.  The osprey was somewhat dehydrated and malnourished, had a slightly injured toe and suffered neurological problems from hanging upside down for some time. However, it recovered and was released.

These are “hands-on” examples of experts providing help when wildlife are in trouble, and they still both involve wildlife rehabilitators. Wildlife rehab is the answer for an injured animal. But, in general, the best bet for your safety, and that of the animal involved, is to leave wildlife alone, whenever possible keeping them truly wild.

-- Matt Trott, External Affairs


GREAT reminders. Still, would be best if Officer Bare wore gloves with those young raccoons, given that they are high-risk rabies species in many states. It's a good example to set!

But great reminders on how to safely and effectively help our wild friends.
# Posted By amw002 | 1/18/15 4:55 PM

This is why it is so tempting to pet, hold, or squeeze a bear cub.
# Posted By | 1/28/18 6:13 PM

I used this writing to make a persuasive writing piece to hopefully convince the president to pass a law about this.
# Posted By | 10/25/18 1:49 PM
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