Arkansas is blessed with an abundance of wildlife and their offspring. Throughout the spring and summer, it is not uncommon to come across unattended baby wild animals. But alone doesn’t mean orphan when it comes to wildlife.
Many people discover apparently lost or abandoned wild animals and take them in thinking they are doing the right thing. The AGFC maintains a list of volunteer rehabilitation specialists in www.agfc.com/rehab who can care for an injured or orphaned baby animal, but a few simple guidelines can help determine if the animal really needs help. First of all, do not assume that these animals have been abandoned and need to be rescued. One or both parents may be out of sight and disturbing them could endanger their well-being. Three simple questions can help determine the animal’s situation.
Is the animal abandoned?
An “orphan” is a young animal that cannot care for itself and whose parents cannot be found or are known to be dead. If you find a healthy young animal that can walk and has all its feathers or fur, your help may not be needed. Their parents are usually close. Partially feathered baby birds, almost ready to fly, often jump on tree branches exercising their wings and fall from the tree. Parents will feed these young wherever they find them on the ground, sometimes for up to a week or more. Observe the young animal from a distance before approaching it. Parent birds rarely feed their chicks on land if they see people nearby.
Is the animal in danger?
Endangered young wild animals do not necessarily have to be removed from the wild, just protected from danger. Pets and children are the most immediate danger to a young wild animal in your yard. Pets can attack the young animal, and children can cause injury if they are mishandled. Some wild animals are carriers of disease. Keep pets and children away from the animal while monitoring.
Is the animal injured or weak?
If the young animal appears weak or injured, it may have an illness. Nature has arranged that each year many more animals are born than are capable of maturing and reproducing. This surplus of animals is used to feed other animals. In other words, by rescuing one wild animal, you may be depriving another of its prey. It may sound cruel, but an orphaned animal helps another animal survive by becoming its food.
It may also be illegal to own wild animals, according to non-game wildlife program coordinator Karen Rowe. “It is illegal to possess migratory birds such as songbirds and that includes cardinals, mockingbirds, blue jays, etc., as well as hawks and owls. In addition, most wild animals do not spend much time with their young so as not to attract predators to the nest. In fact, a female rabbit only spends about an hour in 36 with her young, so watching them from a distance and waiting for the adult to return can be a long wait,” Rowe explained. “Simply put, leave them alone,” she added.
Half of all baby birds can jump out of the nest and fall to the ground where the adults just chase them down and feed them wherever they happen to be, he said. “It’s best to keep pets, children and yourself away and let nature take its course. It’s also important to note that in prolific species like songbirds and rabbits, up to 80 percent of the young die in their first year, so attrition is part of nature,” Rowe said.
The transport of wildlife to rehabilitators can also lead to the introduction or movement of disease in the landscape. This is why whitetail deer fawns can no longer be rehabilitated. The occurrence of chronic wasting disease creates the risk that a fawn that may be infected with the disease will spread it not only to the rehabilitator’s facility, but also to its eventual release site. Meanwhile, all other deer that would be brought to that rehabilitation center would be at high risk of infection and further spreading the disease.
It is human nature to want to help any creature that appears to be suffering or lost, but for the sake of all species, keep wildlife wild and enjoy it at a distance.