Love this write-up I did for the Piatt County Journal Republican. Published on May 14, 2008.
The inclination to assist what may appear to be an “abandoned” baby animal is understandably strong in lots of people and can hardly be faulted. Not many folks want to see a defenseless little animal suffer or perish.
Yet it is illegal to handle wild animals, young ones included, and an untrained person who does so can harm the baby into adulthood, according to animal rehabilitation specialist Diana McPheeters and conservation police officer Ray Wichus.
McPheeters and Wichus said that what looks to be an abandoned baby animal to the novice eye is most of the time a youngster being taught by its mother how to survive in the wild or a mother going off to gather food.
And though it does not appear so to the casual observer, baby birds seen hopping about on the ground have sailed from their nests and are being independently trained by their mothers to fly.
Most of the time, cruel abandonment or injuries are not part of the equation.
“They’re not really abandoned,” said Wichus. “Mom’s just run off because she knows what to do and they’re taught to just lay still.”
Springtime is the prime season to witness such isolated baby animals. It is breeding time, so Monticello residents could encounter baby animals, such as bunnies, fledglings, squirrels, raccoons, fawns and owls, lying by themselves in ditches, backyards, wooded areas and in many other spots.
People are more likely to come across baby animals that appear distressed at this time of year due to spring rains storms and wind, according to McPheeters, who added that suburban sprawl and removing trees and bushes with creatures occupying them interrupts nature’s natural order.
Suburban sprawl and removing trees and bushes with creatures occupying them interrupts nature’s natural order.
“The reason that these animals are coming to us (is) because of humans and how we’re dealing with the world, like taking away their habitat or just interfering with their existence,” McPheeters said.
Baby coyotes and foxes are trained in a similar manner by their mothers and can often be found alone on the ground. Unless they are obviously injured, however, it is best to leave them be.
“If there’s no imminent danger right away to your family or your pets or the animal, leave them alone,” said Wichus, who works for the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. “If they’re still there several hours later or the next morning, then call us. Give them a chance first, then call.”
McPheeters said that children who come across any wild animal on the ground should not touch it and immediately contact a parent, who can then call his department or another that has a professional knowledge of animals.
Moving an unharmed baby animal from its location and leaving a “human imprint” on it can have adverse effects on the animal’s upbringing. Foxes and coyotes, for instance, are normally evasive of humans if raised under normal wildlife circumstances. When raised by humans, however, especially alone and not in packs, these animals no longer fear human contact and in fact seek people out to be fed.
When raised by humans, especially alone and not in packs, these animals no longer fear human contact and in fact seek people out to be fed.
A fox raised as a baby by an untrained person, for instance, may skirt a resident’s yard searching for food and shelter later in life, which in turn may lead the resident to believe the fox is sick. Fearing for the safety of himself or his children, he may opt to have the fox destroyed, which actually happened recently within Monticello city limits.
Baby animals born into the wild can also go into shock with fear if handled by untrained individuals, and the overall consequences of attempting to raise wild animals by an untrained person are dire for the animal later in life. According to Wichus, attachment to humans is “the worst thing in the world for a wild animal.”
Wichus said people should seek help for clearly injured or abandoned baby animals. A dead raccoon on the road with its babies in a ditch, for instance, would qualify as unintentional abandonment by the mother.
Photo submitted to paper