If You Find a Baby Animal …

Spring is the season of rebirth and the celebration of new life. Sometimes,though, the cycle of life is interrupted. Our hearts go out to injured and orphaned baby animals. Their cute faces, spots, and soft appearance makes us want to cuddle and care for them. Please don’t. Sometimes a good and willing heart isn’t enough by itself; special training is often needed, as well.

These are wild animals, and attempts to make them into pets don’t change their innate nature. If a baby animal is not injured, its mother is probably nearby. A wild animal raised in a home environment is at a significant disadvantage when it’s later released into the wild.

If you find a baby animal that appears to be injured or orphaned, condensed here are Sulphur Creek Nature Center’s guidelines:

Deer: If you find a fawn alone, it most likely has not been abandoned. Does leave their young fawns in hiding during the day, and only come to them once or twice a day to feed them – typically after dark. Leave an uninjured fawn alone. If picked up, the fawn should be returned to the same area where found. Watch it from a distance. If the mother does not reunite with the fawn within 4-6 hours, or after dark, then consider taking it to a center that is licensed for deer. If the fawn is injured, call animal control. Not all wildlife centers are licensed to care for deer. Fawns are cute and sweet, so there may be a temptation to keep and raise it. Remember that adult deer have very sharp hooves. Even though they carry the spirit of gentleness, these are wild animals.

Bats: These are good guys, who help keep insect populations under control. Sometimes bats find their way into houses. Close all interior doors and open the doors to the outside. The bat’s sonar will help it find its way out. Bats usually hibernate during the winter, but a sudden cold snap can ground these flying mammals. If you find a bat on the ground, it can be pushed into a box or covered and picked up with a thick towel and garden gloves. Tape the box closed and take it to a nature center. If the bat appears healthy and starts to move around as it warms up, it can be released outside when the weather is warm. Do NOT handle a bat with bare hands, as these animals can carry rabies.

Skunks: Skunks also can be carriers of rabies. If you find a skunk that appears to be sick, call your local animal control department. If a very young skunk is found alone and can be contained without touching it (a baby skunk can spray at 8 days old!), secure it in a carrier and take it to a wildlife facility, or call your local animal control.

Squirrels: Squirrels are creative in their choices of nest locations, and a female may have several nests. Baby squirrels can fall out of trees, be injured during tree pruning activity, become a trophy of your dog or cat, and be discovered when the nest is somewhere in your house. If you find a baby squirrel on the ground, the mother may not be far away. If the baby is cold, put it in an open box with a hot water bottle wrapped in a ravel-free cloth. Put the box at the base of the tree where you found the baby squirrel. The baby’s cries will help the mother find it. Keep animals and children away from the area. If no mother returns within a couple of hours, take the baby to a wildlife center. If the baby squirrel is injured, take it immediately to a wildlife center.

Rabbits: Rabbits sometimes build a nest in a yard, where it is vulnerable to lawn mowers, dogs, cats, rakes, etc. If the baby rabbit is injured, bring it to a wildlife center. If the baby appears healthy, put it back in the nest. Place grass on top of the nest, and mark it with twigs or yarn in a pattern such as a cross or X. Keep children and animals away from it. In the morning, check the nest. If the twigs or yarn have been disturbed, the mother returned during the night. If not disturbed, the mother probably did not return, so have the young transported to a wildlife center. Young rabbits are cute, but also very difficult to raise and their chances of survival are slim without their mother.

Opossums: If you detect movement in a dead female opossum’s pouch, her young are still alive. Do not try to remove the babies. Take the adult to a nature center as soon as possible. Opossum young leave the mother before becoming full grown. If the baby is 4-1/2 to 5 inches long (not counting the tail), it’s probably old enough to be on its own, unless injured. Smaller than that, and the opossum may be an orphan or may have been separated from the mother. Wear heavy gloves when handling an opossum – they have 50 very sharp teeth.

Raccoons: If you find an injured raccoon, call your local animal control facility. A raccoon that has been hit by a car and appears comatose can come out of it very quickly. Raccoons are feisty, and can be aggressive. They can carry rabies. An injured baby raccoon (9 inches long or less) can be placed in a ventilated box, taped shut. Wear gloves. Keep it in a warm, dark, quiet place and transport it to a wildlife center as soon as possible. If the mother raccoon is known dead, take the babies to a wildlife center. If the mother’s condition is unknown, watch the young from a distance to see if the mother returns during the night. If she does not return, the babies need to be brought to a wildlife center. Some notable exceptions aside, raccoons do not make good pets and in many states it is illegal to keep them.

With all this in mind, it’s a good idea to look up the phone numbers for your local animal control, vector or rabies control, and wildlife rescue centers. Post them on your refrigerator or other handy place so they’re easy to find when you need them.

You can go a step farther, too. Volunteer at your local wildlife center or animal shelter, and donate goods and money to help them care for the animals that share this big blue ball in space that we call home.

If you find a baby bird …

[click here to link with my article about handling nestlings and fledglings: http://nancyschluntz.com/?p=870 ]

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"Animals are such agreeable friends - they ask no questions, they pass no criticisms." - George Eliot
"The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated." - Gandhi
"There is little that separates humans from other sentient beings – we all feel pain, we all feel joy, we all deeply crave to be alive and live freely, and we all share this planet together." - attributed to Gandhi
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