Wildlife ‘rescues’ can do more harm than good
Tuesday, May 07, 2013
Media contact: Gary Morse, 863-227-3830
Winter is finally over. Trees and flowers are blossoming, birds are building nests and critters are being born.
This is also the time of year when the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) begins getting calls about “abandoned” animals that folks believe may be in need of rescue. The fact is that rescuing these seemingly abandoned youngsters interferes with the very processes that ensure their survival in the wild.
After giving birth, adult wildlife must forage to provide food for themselves and their young. This means leaving their newborns for short periods.
Having some basic knowledge of wildlife and the survival skills animals use can help avoid attempting to rescue animals that don’t need rescuing.
Common targets of misplaced rescues are baby deer, temporarily left in a safe place while their mother feeds nearby. Many people who find fawns mistakenly assume they have been abandoned when, in reality, their parents are in the process of ensuring the infants’ survival.
“In most cases, it is absolutely not in a fawn’s best interest to rescue it,” said Angeline Scotten, Wildlife Assistance Biologist with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC).
Scotten says what typically happens is someone discovers a young deer waiting for its mother. Often, those fawns are found in palmetto patches or in recently burned areas, where a doe has placed her new offspring for protection. These settings tend to help mask the fawn’s scent, thus providing good protection from the keen nose of a predator.
People become concerned when the parent is nowhere in sight and mistakenly believe the young animal will perish unless they save it or take it to a wildlife rehabilitation center. Unfortunately, actions of this kind usually have the opposite effect of a rescue.
“Stress created by changing the animal’s diet and surroundings is often fatal. If the rescued fawn manages to survive, its return to the wild is practically impossible because of human imprinting and a lack of survival skills, which it would have learned from its mother, had it remained in the wild,” Scotten said.
Feeding wild animals to help them survive is another misconceived notion that can have dire consequences for wildlife. Although this may sound odd, feeding causes problems ranging from poor nutrition, dependence on humans for food and nuisance behaviors that can threaten people, property and pets.
“Wildlife has survived for thousands of years without human interference and, frankly, it certainly seems to work out better for the animals that way,” Scotten said.
The FWC recommends that if you find a fawn or other baby animal, don’t touch it or disturb it and quietly leave the area.
Juvenile birds are also commonly found on the ground at this time of year, looking a bit dazed or confused. The youngster may be trying to hide in tall grass or in low bushes to avoid being seen by predators. These young birds are going through a process called fledging – learning to fly and fend for themselves.
“While fledging, the birds’ parents will continue to care for it by feeding it and helping it to learn needed survival skills. The best advice is to not interfere in this crucial learning process and to keep pets that may harm the young birds confined,” Scotten said.
According to biologists, the only time a baby songbird should be rescued is when it is on the ground and has almost no feathers, when the bird is injured by pets or its tail is less than a half-inch long and it cannot hop around on its own.
“If you find a baby songbird you are sure needs rescuing, and the nest is low enough for you to safely return it, it’s OK to do that. Songbirds have almost no sense of smell, so young birds can be returned to their nest without a chance of rejection,” Scotten said.
You can also place the baby bird in a lined, uncovered, shallow box with drainage, and attach the box to the tree from which the bird fell. Sometimes the parents will come to the baby in the new box and feed it there.
When you are sure a bird needs rescuing and care, place the baby in a tissue-lined box that has air holes in the top. Keep the box in a warm spot away from drafts and air conditioning and out of direct sunlight. Do not give it food or water. Call a licensed wildlife rehabilitator in your area. Please remember that migratory birds are protected and need to be cared for by a licensed facility.
The FWC’s Southwest Region Office, 863-648-3200, has a list of licensed rehabilitators. Many local veterinarians work closely with wildlife rehabilitators and also can be a good source of help.
The FWC asks you to remember that removing an animal from the wild to save it may actually have the opposite effect. Seek advice from wildlife professionals before attempting to rescue any animal.
“Remember that in most cases, it’s better to leave wildlife in the wild,” Scotten said.
For more information on Florida’s wildlife and what you can do to help, go to MyFWC.com/Conservation and select “How You Can Conserve” and then “Wildlife Assistance – Injured or Nuisance Wildlife.”