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Stop Trying To ‘Rescue’ Baby Wildlife! Wildlife Rescue & Rehabilitation Explains Why

Image of a baby possum courtesy of Wildlife Rescue and Rehabilitation in Kendalia. For emergency assistance call WRR's 24-hour emergency hotline, 830-336-2725.

Leave baby wild animals alone!

The Canyon Lake area is right in the middle of the so-called wildlife “Baby Season,” which lasts from the warmer months of spring to late summer.

Thousands of baby possums, squirrels and raccoons, deer, bats, skunks, snakes, deer and coyotes are either here or on their way.

Wildlife Rescue & Rehabilitation (WRR), which operates facilities in Kendalia and San Antonio, says the last thing already vulnerable wild animals need is a call from another concerned citizen who “rescued” a wild animal because they didn’t see its mother.

Lynn Cuny, founder and president of WRR said in most cases the mother is standing nearby, well-hidden, watching her youngster disappear.

The non-profit rescues and cares for over 11,000 native wild animals a year, and that number is increasing due to overly concerned citizens who don’t know what they’re doing by trying to help.

“While we are always here for every animal in need, we never want any healthy wild baby to be taken from her parents,” said Lynn Cuny, founder and president of WRR. “Most of the time, the best thing to do is to leave the baby wild animals right where you found them. As helpless and frail as they appear, they are there for a reason and they probably have parents who are keeping a close watch nearby.”

To decide whether a baby animal really needs to be rescued instead of just left alone, WRR urges residents to follow these steps before intervening:

Step 1 – Don’t panic. Just because you came across a baby wild animal who appears to be alone doesn’t mean they have been abandoned. In fact, their mother is probably nearby seeking food for them or herself. Wild animal parents are devoted to their young and will not abandon them except in extreme circumstances.

Step 2 – Observe the baby from afar so as not to scare off their parents who are probably still in the area and may return. Depending on the species of animal, it could take as long as six or more hours for the parents to return to their young, so it is extremely important to be patient.

Step 3 – While observing the animal, try to see if the baby is in distress, hurt, or exhibiting any unnatural behavior. For example, if you see a fawn alone who is lying on her side, breathing heavily or has ants around her, then there is something wrong and she needs help. If the fawn is sitting or laying normally, do not bother her. The baby is exactly where her mother placed her. If the fawn is near a busy road, it is best to move her to a nearby safer area and then walk away.

Step 4 – Watch and wait to determine if the mother returns. For birds and squirrels monitor for two hours. For fawns, monitor for 10 to14 hours. If you still haven’t seen the parents return to their baby, contact WRR’s 24-hour emergency hotline at 830-336-2725 and be sure to leave your name a phone number to ensure a prompt response.

“During this baby season, take a moment to educate yourself and your friends,” Cuny said. “Rescuing wild baby and adult animals takes an understanding of the situation; it is essential to have the proper knowledge to successfully help them.

“With WRR’s advice, everyone can do their part in keeping wildlife families together,” she said. “You don’t want to be the next person to separate a baby animal from his or her parents. Together, we can efficiently reduce the number of animal families being separated due to misinformation regarding wildlife.”

To learn more about the appropriate procedures when helping a baby bird, fawn, squirrel, opossum, or rabbit, visit wildlife-rescue.org/handouts.

Suggestions from Texas Parks and Wildlife Department

Texas Parks and Wildlife Department has plenty to say about baby wildlife as well,

The state agency says a young animal’s best chance for survival is with its natural parents who, better than anyone else, can ensure that it retains all of its natural faculties and behaviors for survival in the wild.

“Because of the danger of disease transmission, any suspected orphan should be kept away from domestic pets. In addition, there is considerable risk to anyone handling a wild animal. Please see the Texas Department of Health’s Zoonosis site for information about diseases transmissible from animals to humans, particularly rabies. Know their risks! Know the laws! Read about Texas’s Rabies Quarantine on the Texas Department of Health website.

“Also, because young animals can inappropriately identify pets or people as their parents, they may lose their natural fear and become more vulnerable to predation or injury as they mature. These animals are referred to as “human imprints,” a condition which is often irreversible and may doom the animal in question to life in captivity or euthanasia.

“Any time you have an orphaned or injured wild animal, you must remember that the animal may be in pain or in shock.

“One sign of shock involves unusually docile behavior in what is otherwise a wild animal. Handlers should beware, as the animal may be temporarily stunned, especially if it was found on or near a road.

“All adult and most juvenile wild animals will attempt to defend themselves from perceived danger by whatever means are available to them. Birds of prey may bite or use their talons to “foot” a handler; herons and bitterns may thrust their beaks at the eyes of their would-be human saviors; and all mammals can scratch and bite. This is not the result of a vicious nature – it is merely an effort to keep themselves from being killed and eaten.

“It is also important to remember that unusually tame animals may be very sick. Never take chances when dealing with wild animals. If you find yourself temporarily caring for a wild animal in need of help, the best thing you can do for that animal is to keep it “warm, dark and quiet.”

“You should not attempt to give it food or water unless directed to do so by someone qualified to determine the animal’s condition. Young animals and birds can get fluid in their lungs and drown if you don’t know the proper techniques for giving them water. Never give cows milk, as it will make most wild orphans sick and dehydrated. Likewise, birds of prey will sicken and die if fed a diet of hamburgers or hot dogs. Baby songbirds, grackles, jays and crows need a protein diet and cannot digest bread.

“The best thing you can do for a stranded wild creature is to leave them in peace until you can get the advice of a wildlife rehabilitator. Veterinarians may also be able to give you assistance, although treating wildlife is not the same as treating domestic animals, so if your vet hasn’t had experience or training dealing with wildlife, he or she may not be sure how to treat the animal you have found.

“Until arrangements have been made to transfer the animal, it’s best to place it in a pet carrier with a towel over it or in a sturdy cardboard box. You can put air holes in the box, but keep them small so the animal remains in the dark as much as possible. Never put wild birds in wire cages, they injure themselves on the wire trying to escape. Wildlife rehabilitators are trained and experienced professionals, well-versed in the specific nutritional, behavioral, and environmental requirements of particular wildlife species. If an animal can not be returned to its parent, its next best chance for a successful return to the wild can be provided only by such highly skilled persons.

Assessing the Situation

The following specific situations are those you are most likely to encounter:

“Offspring calling from the nest. Parent not present:

“Many animals deliberately avoid areas where their offspring are present. Such ‘hiding’ behaviors reduce the chance of calling a predator’s attention to the young. While you may not be able to sense the presence of the parent, she is likely close by and in visual or auditory contact with her offspring. Patiently observe the nest to see if the parent returns. If, after observation, you still believe the nest is abandoned, carefully, without touching the nest, place small sticks around it. If after a day the sticks have been disturbed and the offspring still appear to be healthy, the nest has probably been visited by a parent.”

Blown-down nest:

“If the nest is relatively undamaged and the young birds or eggs are unharmed, replace the nest into the tree from which it fell or in a nearby tree. The parents should continue to tend the nest. A badly damaged nest may be placed into a strawberry basket or other appropriately sized basket before placement in a tree. You may need to secure the nest to the branch with twine. Note: It is a common fallacy that birds reject their young if they have acquired a human scent. In fact, very few bird species possess a developed sense of smell. Excessive handling should be avoided nonetheless, as mammalian predators may be attracted to human scents in their search for food.”

Grounded baby birds:

“Frequently, birds seen hopping on the ground begging for food do not require your assistance. It is common for birds to fledge from the nest before they are fully feathered or flight-ready. They will be fed on the ground for a day or two until they are able to fly, and then may fly with a parent until able to forage on their own. Usually, if the grounded bird is a healthy fledgling, you will see a parent attending it or foraging nearby. Careful observation should help you make a correct determination. If the bird is in a street, place it under a nearby bush. If there are dogs or cats present, try to keep them away from the area for a few hours. Never unnecessarily handle or move the fledgling from the area where it was found. Baby blue jays are slow to mature, so the fledgling stage will generally take longer for them.”

Abandoned deer fawns:

“In Texas, it is very common for people to encounter seemingly orphaned or abandoned deer. Mother deer typically leave their fawns bedded down while they are away foraging. If the fawn is not crying, is not covered with fire ants, the eyes are not swollen and there are no visible wounds, do not handle or disturb it. Your presence will only cause unnecessary stress for the fawn.”

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  1. Laura Alexander June 2, 2021

    I watched a fawn lying in the yard next door. It was there from before 7am and it was finally gone by about 10pm. I checked to see how long the mother would leave the baby and I am glad I didn’t bother it. It was nice to be able to watch such an awesome event


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