As the weather warms and people spend more time outside, the frequency of human-wildlife encounters increases. A number of these encounters will no doubt involve young wild animals. Most such interactions are harmless. However, sometimes well-intentioned people interfere with young wildlife because they incorrectly assume a young animal is orphaned. Most wild mothers watch their young from a distance, and what you think is an abandoned young animal may be perfectly fine.
REMEMBER: A young wild animal’s best chance of survival is with its mother!
How to Tell if a Wild Animal is Truly Orphaned
The WDNR provides a number of resources on their “Keep Wildlife Wild” web page about this topic. They provide keys for guidance on evaluating wildlife situations and choosing an appropriate course of action for birds, mammals, and fawns to help determine if a young wild animal is truly orphaned.
They also offer information and tips about common Wisconsin animals to help determine if a young wild animal is orphaned or not. Species include cottontail rabbit, coyote, gray fox, gray squirrel, mallard, opossum, raccoon, red fox, songbirds, striped skunk, turtles, white-tailed deer, and woodchuck (or groundhog).
REMEMBER: For the protection of all young wildlife, do not revisit a nest site and do not let dogs and cats near the area.
What to do if Wildlife is Actually Injured, Sick, or Orphaned
If you come across a wild animal that truly does need help, contact a wildlife rehabilitator immediately. Wildlife rehabilitators are licensed individuals trained and equipped to provide temporary care and treatment to injured, sick, and orphaned wild animals for the purpose of release back into the wild.
REMEMBER: Never attempt to rehabilitate wildlife on your own. Wild animals carry diseases that can be transmitted to humans and or pets. They can also injure themselves trying to escape a perceived threat (humans and pets). Wildlife also have very specific dietary and housing requirements.
When should you contact a wildlife rehabilitator?
- The animal’s parent is dead or no longer in the area (trapped and relocated).
- The animal has been attacked by a predator (dog, cat, other wild animal).
- The animal is bleeding and appears injured (bruises, punctures, cuts, broken bones).
- The animal is emaciated, very weak, cold, or soaking wet.
- The animal has diarrhea.
- There are flies, fly eggs, maggots, or many ticks, lice, or fleas on the animal.
- The animal is in a dangerous location (busy street, parking lot).
You can see a list of licensed wildlife rehabilitators by county here.
Why Should You Keep Wildlife Wild?
- Stress: People and domestic animals are perceived predators and cause stress to wild animals that cause serious health problems, or even death.
- Diet: Wild animals have specialized dietary needs that are not easily met in captivity.
- Disease: Wild animals carry many different diseases and parasites, some of which are transmissible to pets and even humans.
- Habituation/Non-natural Behavior Development: Wild animals need to learn normal social behavior from their own species and non-normal behaviors learned from humans or pets can be fatal if the animal is released back into the wild.
- It’s Illegal: Most wild animals are protected under state and federal laws and cannot be taken from the wild or possessed by unauthorized citizens.
Information summarized from DNR web page “Keep Wildlife Wild“