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June 2012
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Give the babies of wild species a break by not helping out

By Steve Vantreese

Wee little critters are all around nowadays as nature replenishes its ranks, but do them a favor and don't intervene.

Many species of wild animals and birds have youngsters in various stages of early development right now. The lucky ones will grow up quickly and take their place in the ecosystem, all without our help.

According to nature's plan, some won't make it. The mortality rate among young critters is high, survival of the fittest being one of the foremost rules by which creatures live/die.

People are suckers for the babies of many species â “ like, oh, it's so cute. And there's an ethic of caring in so many humans that stirs them to action when something small and apparently helpless seems to be in a terrible jam.

That's why we wrongly save or attempt to save juvenile wildlife. Let's ponder the ways that it is wrong:

n Baby animals perceived as abandoned, orphaned or lost usually aren't;

n Human efforts to help them usually create a real problem;

n Human help is usually inadequate even if there is a distress situation for an animal;

n Taking in a baby animal â “ if that in itself doesn't kill it â “ typically ruins its chances of surviving as a wild animal;

n Trying to save a critter, you're liable to get bitten (so it must be killed to be tested for rabies) or infested with parasites, and things may get worse if it lives and grows up surly and untamed;

n It's a violation of wildlife laws to take possession of a wild baby.

A common well-intended blunder involves a deer fawn that is found alone and assumed abandoned or orphaned. We know that mama deer stay away from their largely scentless and spot-camouflaged babies so as not to draw predators to them. A doe only visits a young fawn for short periods to nurse, then leaves it for its own good.

People are known to find a fawn, then "rescue" it by taking it home â “ as its mother probably hid nearby. Doing so usually ends the fawn's chance for becoming a wild deer and it may doom it for lack of proper care. It's well-intended damage.

Something similar may happen with other wildlife, maybe baby cottontail rabbits found at or around a nest. Drag those cute little bunnies out of the nest or from the yard to save them and you might as well hit each in the head with a hammer. The typical caring human simply won't have the skills or time to even minimally feed and care for the junior cottontails.

As soon as they are removed from their natural source of parenting, their lives probably can be measured in terms of hours. The stress of being human-handled alone might trigger a slide to death.

"When somebody takes a baby animal out of the wild, what they've pretty much done is to sign its death warrant," said Sgt. Garry Clark, Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources conservation officer and supervisor in the 1st District. "It might seem cold-hearted, but you're almost always better off leaving young animals where they are.

"It might not be in trouble, but even if it is, people aren't able to take care of a baby animal," Clark said. "And besides that, it's against the law."

And it may open a can of worms, almost literally. Clark said a cute baby raccoon rescued from the wild could easily bring parasitic roundworms into a household to infect and debilitate a rescuer's own children. How's that for caring?

An apparent stray, dependent wild animal is a minor emergency in the scheme of things. Yet, when someone finds one outside their doorstep, it may seem significant enough. So, who are you going to call?

People may be surprised that it's not state conservation officers. There are no such things as "game wardens," and conservation officers are law enforcement personnel. While their specialty is enforcing wildlife regulations, they normally don't do critter rescues. They neither are trained nor equipped for that, and their enforcement duties don't allow the time for it.

Licensed wildlife rehabilitators are the only legitimate alternative. To find one, go to the KDFWR website, www.fw.ky.gov, and look under tabs for "Wildlife," then "Injured or orphaned wildlife." Names and contact information are listed for critter rehab workers county by county. Most will take troubled baby animals; some may come get them.

Yet, there aren't enough animal rehabbers in the world to deal with the wee critters that might appear to be in dire straits. Usually the best we can do for a young animal that seems to have become unbuttoned is to back off.

Give nature the opportunity to sort things out, and allow infant creatures the fighting chance to grow up as wildlife or not at all.

Steve Vantreese, a freelance outdoors writer, can be contacted at outdoors@paducahsun.com.


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