A Rant on What To Do if You Find an Animal in the Wild

What I am about to say is something that is common sense in the naturalist community, but I will post this topic anyways.

I volunteer at a wildlife clinic, and lots of people are seeing baby animals and thinking that they are abandoned. They bring in perfectly healthy animals and want us to help them. We have animals that need to be there. We have animals in incubators and ventilators, and we can’t waste all our space and time with perfectly fine animals.

Deer, raccoon, and rabbit babies are commonly seen as orphans. Baby deer, if they are not injured, need to be left alone. They are born scentless, and if you touch them, you are basically telling every predetor where they live. They aren’t orphaned, their mom left them there on purpose.

Young raccoons have different sleeping cycles than adults. They will play outside in the day time, and will cross roads. UNLESS THEY ARE INJURED, Do not touch them. They are vector animals. We literally have seperate storage and wash loads for the raccoon laundry because they have so many diseases and parasites. Their feces is absolutely nasty. Only staff are allowed to handle them. They are cute and beautiful, but they have absolutely disgusting diseases. If you see young raccoons playing, or crossing the road, leave them alone. Mom is napping nearby and knows that they are out playing. If you need to move them, from a chicken coop for example, wear chainsaw gloves. If there is an injured one that you are transporting to a clinic, do the same thing.

Baby bunnies: Same as raccoons, unless they are injured, or dehydrated, leave them alone. If you accidentally uncover a nest, put it back where it was and leave it alone. Babies with open eyes and fur will play outside. If you find really new babies with closed eyes and no fur, call your local wildlife clinic and they will help you figure out what to do next.

What happens when people bring in perfectly healthy animals? It depends. The center I volunteer at is constantly swamped with babies this time of year. Last year, one of the interns told me that if a person abducts a perfectly healthy fawn, they sometimes have to euthanize the fawns because there is nothing else to do. It’s sad, and completely avoidable if you just let them be. Or, sometimes we do take them in, and then the staff and experts have to spend time feeding and cleaning up after these babies, while also making sure that they don’t become friendly with humans.

Lastly, and I know many of you already see this as common sense, DO NOT KEEP WILD ANIMALS AS PETS.

I don’t mean keeping an anole or pheasent as a pet, that is a completely different thing.

I mean native wildlife. Keeping them is pets is harmful to them, to you, and to the habitat you took them from. Raccoons, deer, opossums, and whatever else live near you need to stay in the wild. They are cute, but they should never be pets. Bringing wild animals into your house poses a serious health risk to you, your family, and your pets. Parasites are disgusting. Rabies is a horrible way to die. Children could be bitten, scratched, and develop a fear of wildlife. These animals will get bored and absolutely wreck your belongings. People then get sick of them. And once they get used to living like a pet, they can never be released.

The nature center and wildlife clinic I volunteer at has many permanent residents. Animals that can’t return to the wild and are stuck with us. Some of them were injured in the wild. Many were pets.

The bobcat who lives there was taken from a person who kept him as a pet. In addition to being habituated, he was declawed and neutered by the owner. The staff do everything they can to give him an enriched environment, but that poor bobcat will never have the same quality of life as a bobcat living in the wild.

In conclusion, leave healthy animals alone. If they are injured, dehydrated, sick, fell from a nest, or you are POSITIVE that their mother isn’t coming back, you can call a wildlife clinic. Don’t keep them as pets. It’s illeagal and it is cruel. Wildlife is meant to be free and wild.


(moved this to #nature-talk)

Thank you, that’s a better tag

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Worked in an shelter for wildlife and exotic pets a while back (Europe).

The rule of thumb is, if you remove an animal from the wild which actually did not need help, you will massively decrease it´s chances of survival.The best you can do, if you are not sure about whether an animal needs help or not - google it! We live in a time where this is usually easy and fast to do. Typical guest in our shelter included babies of hares, roe deer, hedgehogs … all species where the young can be typically be encountered without their mom. If mice (and similar), squirrels or rabbit babies are found with eyes still closed and/or no or few fur it is good to observe first if the mom gets them (save distance!). Sometimes they get lost on the move or if the nest is destroyed, but mom will try to find them. Best not to touch baby animals, but don´t worry to much if you have to, that the mom will not take them back - the maternal instinct is one of the strongest natural forces that will usually overcome this irritation.

Another rule of thumb - do not interfere in natural predator-prey-interactions. It is a natural thing. The predator might need to feed it´s own young (and usually predator success rates a amazingly low… so that catch might have been very important to do so) and in many cases the prey does not have a high chance of survival anyways, once the predator interacted with it (stress, internal bleeding and so on).


Sadly some people are clueless. I once saw someone carrying a fawn on his shoulders on the Appalachian Trail, claiming it had been abandoned and he was ‘rescuing’ it. ~sigh~ Not sure what happened to it in the end.

On a positive note, yes parental instincts are strong. I had some backyard drama recently when a potted plant toppled over that a pair of song sparrows had built a nest in. Fortunately I noticed right away and was able to straighten it out a bit and put the babies that had fallen out back into the nest. I secured the pot so it wouldn’t tip over again but was worried with all the disturbance that it might cause the parents to abandon their nest. However, they quickly got back to taking care of their little ones. They have all fledged by now. I’m pretty sure if I had tried to ‘rescue’ the nestlings, their survival chances would have been much slimmer than under mom and dad’s expert care.


Yes, but not everyone is as into nature as the majority of us here are, so I think it’s important to realize they’re acting in good faith, even if it’s misguided. If there are a bunch of signs somewhere about harassing animals (like what’s supposedly at Yellowstone) I think it’s fair to criticize their intentions, but in other situations I think the best anyone can do is to understand their concern and tell them how best to handle situations like that in the future.

I know for me personally there are are many, many stuations (car breakdowns, gardening, talking to people at parties) where I’m quite clueless and must look just as misguided.


I was at an RSPB nature reserve on the weekend (UK) and a man turned up with a young gull that he’d found at a nearby pond and expected the volunteers there to take it. They told him to return it to where he found it and given the high risk that the parents could have died of bird flu I imagine they wanted it out of there fairly quickly. It was a large chick though and easily capable of walking away from a nest.


Oh yikes. It’s sad, on one hand these people mean well, but they are literally killing animals with kindness sometimes, and it gets ridiculous hearing some of the stories.

I’m so glad you knew what to do with the sparrow babies! I wonder what happened with that guy and the fawn. One time someone took a bison calf (or a similar species, I think this was at Yellowstone) It was perfectly healthy, but they had to euthanize it because there was no way of finding its mother again.

Yes, that’s true and was the case here, too. There is much need for education, especially with city-dwelling tourists who don’t get in much contact with nature on a regular basis. And since people usually are acting out of a desire to help, it’s doubly devastating for them to learn of the potential negative consequences of their supposedly good deed.

I once had someone over at my yard when we noticed a couple of young goldfinches just below one of the trees. They looked quite disheveled and unable to fly yet. We worried that they had fallen out of the nest up in the tree until we witnessed the parents feeding them. They didn’t fall - they probably jumped out! It’s all part of their normal growing up into fledglings. Unless you know the parents are dead, it’s probably best to just leave the babies alone and trust that they are being taken care of.


I live in NE Ohio. Some of the local wildlife rehabbers here post messages like this all the time in Facebook to various groups to try to educate people and to try to get them to call the rehab center first before doing anything.

I know people want to help wildlife. But, you must know when to do it and when to leave things alone.

Thanks for posting this message.


At the store where I work, we have people call all the time about “orphans”. I try to weed out the ok ones to relieve the strain on the rather limited rehab centers around here. The two types that I find most annoying are the people who “save” an animal and wait until after they get home to call and ask where they can take it (why didn’t you call when you were out?), or the people who have something that needs help, but when I tell them that they have to take the animal about 30-40 minutes drive to the rehab, they lose interest (why’d you rescue it in the first place?)


I think access to information is always one of the best way to help people who are unsure. In NZ we have the Department of Conservation hotline (Free call 0800 DOCHOT). People can report anything on conservation land there, or any wildlife thing anywhere (In the country). If they think there needs to be a response, they can call, and someone will figure out/advise on what needs to be done if anything.

A big part of the education of course is making sure members of the public know the number. If you have such numbers in your country its good to let people know them if they do make a “mistaken act of goodwill”. The more people who know where they can get advice the better. People call also call one of our DOC visitor centres around the country. People like me can also give advice over the phone, the vast majority of rescues I help with were started by a report from the public.

The of course we also have outreach vids like this for some of the most common things people get confused by (Seals being seals) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vk4FObS9HPY

Of course I know unfortunately many countries may not have such numbers to reach for advice. But there will still often be groups who can, if people know who they are.


It should also be understood that if a baby bird really did “fall” from the nest, it may not have been an accident. My last time in the Dominican Republic, I found a hatchling Hispaniolan woodpecker, still completely unfeathered, on the ground at the foot of the nest tree. Now, they’re cavity nesters – the baby isn’t going to fall out accidentally. The parents knew that it was sick, so they threw it out. It would have died anyway. I knew that because it was actually weaker at the second feeding than the first – if it hadn’t been sick, the opposite would have happened.

On that note, can anyone tell me what was wrong with this Eastern Mole? Was I right to walk away, or could it have been saved?


Aw, poor mole. I am not sure, maybe a neurological issue? brain/spine damage? There was a woodchuck like that, really misarable and acting similar. They had to euthanize it.


Where I live in Ontario, Canada, the Government took most of the conservation jobs out the window and left it to the police or citizen to deal with the wildlife issues. When a bear is spotted near a dwelling, they usually shot it, we are still at war with coyotes and wolves and although disappearing at an increasingly high rate, they certainly do not care about biodiversity. Ontarian do their best to save wildlife in distress but the lack of government response regarding this issues leaves many to guess if the animal is in distress or need to be left alone, shame on them. (Rant over)


That is a bad idea. I’m sorry that is the case where you live, I imagine it’s frusterating.

I got a chance to see a fawn this weekend and talk to Naturalist staff (this was at a nature park where there are plenty of deer) and they mentioned they have educational signage that they bring out whenever there are fawns in areas near trails where visitors might notice them. There seems to be much need for education on this. Every now and then they have well-meaning but clueless people picking up and carrying ‘abandoned’ fawns into the gift shop or museum on site.


Thank you @giannamaria, a very bad idea indeed.

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