Hands Off!: Best Practices for Dealing With Orphaned Wildlife

Each year wildlife officials and veterinarians are inundated with phone calls from individuals who have encountered what they perceive as an abandoned, helpless young animal. Birds and mammals of all sorts are caught and taken from their natural environment simply because they appear to be orphaned. The fact is, interfering with newborn wildlife may do more harm than good.

White tailed deer fawns are some of the most beautiful creatures in the wild. Does keep their fawns in secluded areas, preferably grassy fields that offer excellent cover, and they don’t stay with the fawn throughout the day. The doe stays nearby so that she does not attract predators to the area where her fawn is lying. When people see a wandering or lone fawn, they sometimes capture it hoping “save” it. As tempting as it may be to catch and cuddle a fawn, it’s best to let nature take its course. Momma is likely nearby. Given enough time, the doe will find her fawn or vice versa.

Smaller mammals such as raccoons and squirrels do not make good pets and should be allowed to stay in their natural habitat even when they seem to be alone. When it comes to capturing and caring for wildlife, Deer and Elk Program Coordinator for the state of Kentucky, Gabe Jenkins, stated, “Most people are not skilled enough in the proper way to feed and take care of young animals. Animal rehabbers who handle those animals have to take special training and pass a test to ensure they are competent in the correct care of wild animals.”

Much like the deer fawn, it’s not uncommon to find turkey poults wandering from the hen. When a hen is spooked she may fly away from the scene hoping to draw the perceived predator from the location to save her poults. She is not abandoning her young but instead she is keeping them safe. Once the danger is past, she will gather her poults by calling to them.

Of course there are instances where perhaps the parent animal has been killed or injured and intervention is necessary. In this case Jenkins suggests, “Unless the animal is in danger or you’re 100% sure something has happened to the mother, you should always leave it alone.” He encourages individuals to contact their state’s department of wildlife to learn the proper steps to take. Licensed wildlife rehabilitators are better equipped to care for orphaned wildlife than your ordinary citizen.

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