If You Care, Leave It There

Provided to the SantivaChronicle.com

Every year wildlife hospitals, like the Clinic for the Rehabilitation of Wildlife (CROW) on Sanibel, are flooded with young animals that are abducted away from their parents by well-intentioned people who believe these babies to be orphaned. In fact, wild animals are very devoted to the care of their young and human interference is rarely warranted.

While it is possible that a mother might be unable to return to a nest due to illness, injury, or death; it is more likely that she is just away foraging for food and will return in due course, according to the natural biology for the species.

For example, a mother rabbit will only return to nurse her bunnies for a few minutes at dawn or dusk, at a time when she is unlikely to be observed by predators (or humans). The rest of the time she stays away from the nest because her natural scent may attract predators to the unscented bunnies and because she is busy foraging for food. Young bunnies leave the nest at approximately three weeks of age, so even a very small rabbit may be self-sufficient.

In the case of most songbirds, both parents caretake. So, even if one of the adults is no longer able to care for the young, the other may be able to carry on successfully. It is a myth that a baby bird that has been touched by humans will be rejected by the parents. A baby that has been displaced can often be returned to the nest and the parents will resume care.

If you see something clearly wrong, like a fallen nest or an obvious injury, please contact a licensed wildlife rehabilitator, like CROW, for advice on the next steps. In most cases, a fallen nest can be replaced into a tree or nearby bushes, but an injured animal needs medical attention. Baby animals require specialized care and should be taken to a licensed rehabilitator.

If the nest itself is missing or damaged, an artificial nest may be created. CROW has had excellent success in re-nesting young animals. In fact, a research study at CROW showed an 88% success rate (defined as the young being re-nested and later fledging normally) in raptors over a three-year period.

A young animal should only be removed from the wild after all efforts to reunite it with the parent(s) have been exhausted. Remember, humans are NEVER a young animal’s best hope for survival; they are its last hope.

At CROW’s wildlife hospital, there are currently 32 baby raccoons at various ages. Many of the raccoon kits admitted arrive after their mother has been trapped and relocated from a person’s home, only to find the babies after she has been removed. CROW’s rehab team does an amazing job to raise these kits, but a raccoon mother does the best job.

Baby animals, especially raccoons, do not make great pets. Raccoons can carry rabies or other diseases and should only be handled by professionals that are properly vaccinated. They also need very specialized care including meeting their dietary needs and preventative measures to keep them from becoming habituated to human care. An animal that becomes too accustomed to humans, or “imprinted” to them, is not suitable for life in the wild.

If you find a baby animal and are concerned it may need help, please call us at CROW at 239-472-3644 before trying to help. We will be happy to give you some tips on how to determine if a young animal may be truly orphaned and in need of help, or if Mother Nature has the situation under control.

THIS WEEK AT CROW (6/10-6/16):

There were 163 new patients admitted to CROW’s Wildlife Hospital including 25 virginia opossums, 23 eastern cottontail rabbits, nine blue jays, five burrowing owls, three Cooper’s hawks, a sandhill crane, a sooty tern and a Florida box turtle. Recent Releases include three chimney swifts, a loggerhead shrike, two burrowing owls, a piliated woodpecker and a brown pelican. Check out a full list of CROW’s current patients and recent releases!

Wildlife doesn’t have health insurance! Your donations help cover the costs of medical and rehabilitative care for over 5,000 patients admitted to CROW’s Wildlife Hospital each year!

Want to learn more about wildlife rehabilitation? Stop by CROW’s Visitor Education Center at 3883 Sanibel Captiva Road.

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