OHIO OUTDOOR NOTEBOOK
By Laura Jones, Ohio Department of Natural Resources
WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE, IS WHERE THEY SHOULD STAY
Helpless looking young animals are perfectly normal in the wild, as much a part of spring as wildflowers and songbirds. Their squeaks and peeps can tug at our heartstrings, especially when it appears theyve been abandoned.
To many people, leaving a seemingly abandoned young animal alone in the wild is cruel and the inclination to rescue the critter is strong, but state wildlife experts warn against this impulse.
When people see a young animal alone in the wild, they may believe the animal has been orphaned, and instinctively want to take care of it, said Vicki Mountz, a spokesperson for ODNR's Division of Wildlife. However, its in the animal's best interest to leave it alone. Wildlife parents are devoted to their young and rarely abandon them on purpose.
Every wild creature has a different way of successfully raising its offspring. Sometimes that means leaving the young animal alone for several hours at a time. In most cases, the adult animal's behavior is a method of protecting the young. For example, female cottontail rabbits feed their young early in the morning and at dusk to prevent drawing a predators attention to the nest.
Nocturnal, or nighttime, animals such as owls and raccoons, will not attend to their young during daylight hours. Many wild animals are raised by just one adult who must often be away in order to provide food for itself and its young. Just because you do not see the adult animal does not mean it isn't nearby, said Mountz. A female deer will leave her young hidden amid tall grasses, visiting several times a day to nurse them, but hiding if humans or predators are nearby.
Perhaps the most frequently misidentified wildlife orphans are birds and rabbits. Well-meaning adults and children toting home a baby bird or rabbit may very well have sentenced it to death. The animal should be returned as quickly as possible to the place where it was found.
Baby birds that have fallen from the nest should be replaced in the nest as soon as possible. Even if left on the ground, the bird will continue to be cared for by its parents until it is able to fly. If you find tiny rabbits alone, leave them in the nest. The parent is probably nearby, but won't approach the nest while humans are around.
Its important to know that handling an animal will not cause the parent to stop caring for it. Many people believe that animal parents will abandon their young if theyve been handled by a human that is not true. The biggest problem is the stress caused to the animal when it is handled, and excessive handling can ultimately lead to its death.
A young animals best chance for survival is to be raised by its natural parents.
Only in the instance where something is obviously wrong, such as a broken bone or other visible wound, should the animal be removed.
If you suspect a young animal has been abandoned, contact your local wildlife officer or wildlife district office for advice before taking action. If needed, specially trained and licensed volunteer rehabilitators will provide care to orphaned and injured wildlife.
State and federal laws protect Ohio wildlife and endangered species. Only persons with a permit from ODNRs Division of Wildlife may possess a native wild animal.
Educate children about the importance of respecting wildlife and their habitat. Emphasize they should not catch, handle or harass wild animals and, dont forget to practice what you teach. The sight of young wildlife should be enjoyed, but not interfered with.