Don't Kidnap Baby Wildlife!
By Sarah Probst
"Spring is the season when compassionate individuals mistakenly kidnap thousands of wildlife babies from their mothers," says Darlene Berkowitz, one of the many veterinary students at the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine who volunteer at the Wildlife Medical Clinic. "It is important to know how to help without hurting."
The best way to make sure an animal is truly orphaned is to wait and check it periodically.
Animals often appear to be abandoned but are not. Rabbits feed their young only at dusk and dawn, which is probably why you never see them. If the babies are plump and warm and squirmy, they are being taken care of. If you are unsure, place some strings or sticks across the nest. If the sticks are later disturbed, the mother has returned to feed her young.
"A lot of baby birds fall out of the nest. If they are uninjured, it is safe to pop them back into the nest. The mother will not reject the babies if you touch them. Fledgling birds that are learning to fly are often found on the ground, and the mother takes care of them there. Don't assume they are orphaned," explains Beth Guerra, student coordinator of the WMC.
"A nest that is only superficially disturbed by tripping over it or the dog sniffing it can be reconstructed," advises Elizabeth Robertson de Prado, another WMC student volunteer. "If a bird nest comes apart in a storm, you can make a new one by poking a few holes in a plastic butter container and lining it with grass. Nail the 'nest' as high as you can on the same tree, and place uninjured baby birds in it. The mother will often return in a day.
"This time of year it is common for mother deer to leave their babies alone for most of the day to protect them. The fawn has no scent. It can lay in the grass and be safe, because its predators (other than humans) hunt mostly by scent and will walk right by a fawn they can't smell," explains Robertson de Prado. "So if you see a baby deer all alone, this is normal.
Do not take it away from its hiding place."
The bottom line is: Natural mothers provide better care, nutrition, and survival training than any wildlife rehabilitator. "We can feed babies in the wildlife ward," says Robertson de Prado, "but we can't teach them to be wild." If there is a possibility the mother is around, wait.
When you do find orphaned wildlife, do not try to raise it on your own. Not only is this illegal, but it could harm both you and the baby animal you are trying to help. Wildlife can sometimes transmit parasites and infectious diseases, some of which could be fatal to humans. Also, human efforts to help could kill the orphan. For example, cows' milk can be very harmful to other baby mammals, and bread can cause the death of baby birds. Ask your veterinarian or the Department of Natural Resources (217-785-8287) how to contact wildlife rehabbers in your area if you find a wild animal in need.
"If the baby is visibly injured, its mother has been attacked by a house pet or other animal, or you have seen the baby's condition worsen over a couple days, you should bring it to a wildlife rehabilitator," says Robertson de Prado. Here are five suggestions for helping injured or truly orphaned animals before they reach a rehabilitator.
1. Safety: Animals will bite or scratch. Wear gloves or use a towel to pick the animal up.
2. Quiet: Reducing noise around the animal reduces stress on the animal.
3. Dark: Darkness also reduces stress for the animal.
4. Warm: Sick or infant wildlife may have trouble keeping warm. Place the animal on a towel over a heating pad or by to a warm water bottle-no hotter than you'd use for a human baby.
5. Dry: Moisture steals valuable energy, so make sure whatever you transport the animal in is dry and has plenty of ventilation.
The University of Illinois Wildlife Medical Clinic is a student-run, non-profit organization.
All supplies, feed, and new equipment are paid for by tax-deductible donations from the public. The goal of the wildlife ward is to provide care and treatment for sick, injured, or orphaned wild animals so they can be returned to the wild. Another goal includes providing veterinary students and interested faculty the opportunity to learn and use their medical skills to assist wild animals and to educate the public.
If you would like information about supporting the WMC or information about what to do with injured or sick wildlife, visit the Web site at http://www.cvm.uiuc.edu/wmc/ or call 217/244-1195.