Orphaned Wildlife Primer: Creatures of the Earth

Someday, it will be spring again. The sun will shine more brightly and start putting in a little overtime. You’ll cautiously emerge from your home for a walk or a bike ride. At some point, you’ll pull out the lawnmower. Spring is the time for wild babies to be born, and most of us will come face-to-face with one of them sooner or later. How will you handle yourself?

Rule one of animal babies, particularly ground babies like rabbits and deer, is to leave them alone. It’s unusual for a wild animal to require the help of a human being. In fact, spending some time alone in the great outdoors is a critical part of growing up for most animals. In many cases, the “baby” you’ve spotted is actually a tween learning his way around the neighborhood. I have to hope that you don’t stop your car and try to chase down every unchaperoned tween you see on the street. That type of behavior isn’t classified as “orphan rescue”.

Rule two: if you have trouble catching him, he almost certainly does not need your help. It would be decent of you to gently herd him away from danger if he has ventured too close to traffic or into the neighbors’ Jack Russell pen. You can definitely provide life-saving assistance without ever touching him.

On the other hand, there are some situations where hands-on assistance will be required. If the baby has an obvious injury, has been removed from the mouth of your dog or cat, or is so weak that he can’t move, he will need a ride to the wildlife rehabilitation center. The doctor who normally sees your pets is unlikely to be helpful, since wild animal care requires a license that most vets don’t have. Make sure you locate a facility and make contact before ever approaching the animal. People in this line of work are invariably swamped, so there might not be an opening. If you do need to move a wild animal, remember that they panic easily. Scoop him up gently in a towel, place him in a box, and ask a buddy to sit with him while you drive the car. Never try to restrain or transport a live bat.

Two animals often found all alone outdoors are the deer and rabbit. These babies are normally left unsupervised for very long periods of time, so never assume they’ve been abandoned or orphaned. A baby deer that is lying on his side or crying is not well and needs your assistance; if he is curled comfortably into a ball, do not touch him. Rabbit babies are most often found tucked in a hollow just beneath the surface of your lawn. If they are still in a squirmy little bundle, just cover them back up with their blanket of fur and dried grass. Keep your dog and cat away until they’ve moved on.

In our next post, find out how to get squirrel and bird babies reunited with their legal guardians. This may require a little more finesse.

Dr. M.S. Regan