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If You Care, Leave Them There. Don't "Help" Baby Wild Animals.

Updated on September 3, 2017
Bob Bamberg profile image

With 30 years in the pet supply industry, Bob's newspaper column deals with animal health, nutrition, behavior, regulation, and advocacy.


Wildlife Agencies Advise Against Intervening

Spring is a time for renewal as trees, shrubs and grasses come back to life after a period of dormancy. We also see increased wildlife activity as animals come out of hibernation or torpor.

Spring is the “birthing time” when mammals are born, birds, reptiles and amphibians are hatched, and most insects emerge from cocoons.

Our backyards, neighborhoods, fields & meadows, and woodlands & waterways become “natural history museums” for the mildly curious to the amateur naturalist.

It’s also the time when humans can, and will, do harm to wildlife. It may be out of the urge to help a baby animal we believe is in need of help, or it may be out of thoughtless disregard for the animal’s well being in order to satisfy our own curiosity.

"What a revolting development this turned out to be."
"What a revolting development this turned out to be." | Source

Things Usually Aren't What They Appear To Be

Nature has a way of appearing to be careless, negligent or cruel when viewed through the civilized lens that blesses us with the attributes of caution, attentiveness and compassion.

But, nature is a step ahead of us and has it all figured out

For instance, you might become aware of a nest of baby rabbits and watch it with a natural curiosity and interest.

But, hour after hour goes by without the mother showing up, leaving them alone and vulnerable.

Your instinctive response might be to intervene, with the intention of keeping them safe until they’re old enough to fend for themselves.


Our best intentions, though, can spell trouble in this case. The baby rabbits’ coloring helps them blend in with their surroundings while their lack of scent conceals them from the olfactory abilities of their predators. The mother only visits them twice a day for feedings.

While predators have a hard time seeing and smelling the kits, they have no trouble seeing and smelling the mom. Her presence, instead of protecting them, can actually endanger them.

And that’s the way it is with pretty much all animals, with the exception of the moose. The cow will remain with, and aggressively defend, her offspring.

And she’s a formidable defender. At over 600 pounds of pure, raw fury she will readily stomp to death anything or anyone she feels is a threat.

Do The Right Thing

The best thing you can do is keep your pets secured so that they can’t approach the babies, let alone harm them, and to keep away yourself.

While it would be fun to observe them “up close and personal” or to bring the kids to see them, that wouldn’t be good for the animals.

Human presence could not only scare the mother away and dangerously lengthen the interval between feedings, but it could alert predators to the location of the nest. Or, as we or our pets approach the nest, the babies could be flushed out and into harm's way.

You may also frighten the mother enough to make her bolt from relative safety and become vulnerable to predation herself.

Wildlife officials lament the fact that each year well intentioned people remove baby animals from the wild in the misguided notion that they’re helping.

The fact is that such well intentioned acts tend to have the opposite result.

The Realm of Unintended Consequences

  • Most folks simply don’t have the knowledge, skills and tools to raise wildlife successfully and the animals often succumb despite their best intentions.
  • Those that do survive our intervention have been deprived of the natural learning experiences that sharpen their instincts and teach them the things they need to know in order to survive in the wild.
  • Once released into the wild, their chances of survival are reduced.
  • After experiencing human interaction, they may choose a neighborhood in which to live, rather than their natural habitat.That can subject them to dangers such as attacks from pets or the perils of traffic.
  • Once they mature, many animals become nuisances, others become dangerous to us and our pets.

It’s common to find a baby bird that has fallen from its nest. It's not true that the scent of humans on a baby animal will cause its mother to reject it.

The baby bird can, and should, be gently placed in a bush or on the branch of a tree.

If it didn’t suffer mortal injuries, the mother can attend to it. She’s probably watching from a safe vantage point but will not attend to her baby as long as people are nearby.


You should check local laws, but here in Massachusetts, only young wild animals found injured or with their dead mothers can legally be assisted.

And even then they must be immediately delivered to a licensed wildlife rehabilitator. Here and in many other states, it is illegal to possess wildlife.Your state’s wildlife agency likely has a list of licensed rehabbers and their contact information.

The best shot a wild animal has of evading enemies, feeding and protecting itself, and successfully raising offspring is when they’re allowed to do it their way.

As animal lovers our gut reaction is to step in and take over what we think is a bad situation. But because we're animal lovers, we shouldn't.

Do You Intervene and Raise Injured or Orphaned Wild Babies?

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    • Bob Bamberg profile image

      Bob Bamberg 2 years ago from Southeastern Massachusetts

      Hi Audrey, great to see you. Living in the forest, you probably have many opportunities to do a good deed that, as it turns out, probably isn't a good deed at all. Thanks for stopping by and thanks for the shares.

      Hi moonlake...dislodged baby squirrels are a common event in my neck of the woods, too. I had a customer at my feed and grain store whose son worked for a tree service and they were always knocking squirrels from nests. He'd bring them home and she'd rehab them in a large caged in area she set up in her yard. On rare occasions, such as the death of the mother, the babies would probably perish without intervention. Thanks for stopping by and voting.

      Hello Ron...Your point about people "having permission" to turn away without guilt is a great one. I hadn't thought of that. Knowing that it's best not to take action is probably reassuring to someone who finds what appears to be an orphaned animal and isn't sure what to do. Thanks for stopping by and commenting.

    • RonElFran profile image

      Ronald E Franklin 2 years ago from Mechanicsburg, PA

      This is great information. I'm sure the urge to help when an animal baby seems to be in trouble can be strong, but as you make clear, it's not wise to intervene. I think an article like this gives people "permission" to turn away without feeling guilty about it.

    • moonlake profile image

      moonlake 2 years ago from America

      We've taken many a baby animal to the wildlife center. We never found them in their nest. Baby squirrels from downed trees, ravens knocked out of their nest by eagles, baby bear we couldn't take to wildlife center had to call for help. Enjoyed your hub and voted up.

    • vocalcoach profile image

      Audrey Hunt 2 years ago from Nashville Tn.

      Hi Bob - I didn't know about the dangers of intervening with our wildlife. I live in the forest where animals make their home so I'm very glad to learn about this.

      Great hub that I'll share with others!


    • Bob Bamberg profile image

      Bob Bamberg 2 years ago from Southeastern Massachusetts

      Hi, Lizzy, great to see you. Between the two of us, we should pretty much solve the "wildlife interference" problem. :) Thanks for the votes, pin and share.

    • DzyMsLizzy profile image

      Liz Elias 2 years ago from Oakley, CA

      Well put! I've been passing along such information for some years,now.

      Voted up, useful, interesting, awesome pinned and shared!

    • Bob Bamberg profile image

      Bob Bamberg 2 years ago from Southeastern Massachusetts

      Thanks for dropping by, peachpurple, glad you enjoyed the hub. I hope many others follow your lead.

    • peachpurple profile image

      peachy 2 years ago from Home Sweet Home

      Thanks forthe hub, now i won't tpuch them

    • Bob Bamberg profile image

      Bob Bamberg 3 years ago from Southeastern Massachusetts

      You hit the nail on the head with "an understanding with nature" sharkye11. Most people view nature through a prism of emotion and romance. They will rescue a baby animal based on emotion, and expect it to become a pet based on romance.

      Not many people, outside of rehabbers, get to experience the opportunities you shared with mother nature, and don't realize it takes the discipline and effort that you exerted. It had to be very satisfying. Thanks for stopping by and commenting.

    • Sharkye11 profile image

      Jayme Kinsey 3 years ago from Oklahoma

      Really good points in this article. I grew up waaaaaay out in the backwoods, and we certainly had to have an understanding with Nature. Over the years I have rescued and reared many baby animals, but only those that were orphaned or injured. (one skunk ran under a truck and left us with SEVEN potent orphans!)

      They were great experiences, but they took a lot of dedication and work. What most people don't understand is that the majority of those animals will never really be tame, cuddly pets. Still, it is an involved process to wean them away from being dependent on humans before you can return them to the wild. You can't just baby them in the house for several months then let them go!

      Therefore, I agree...if you aren't sure that they are in need of attention, don't offer it. Just watch!

    • Bob Bamberg profile image

      Bob Bamberg 4 years ago from Southeastern Massachusetts

      Thanks, tirelesstraveler, I appreciate the comment. Thanks for stopping by.

    • tirelesstraveler profile image

      Judy Specht 4 years ago from California

      Useful information. Nature takes care of its own far better than we know, Informative and useful hub.

    • Bob Bamberg profile image

      Bob Bamberg 4 years ago from Southeastern Massachusetts

      Hello peachpurple, thanks for stopping by. I appreciate your kind words and votes.

      For years it has been taught by parents and others that the human scent on baby wildlife will cause the mother to reject it. Indeed, many continue to think it's true. It's not, though, but that shouldn't be an "all clear" signal that it's OK to handle baby wildlife.

      Most people find it against their grain to "abandon" a baby animal they think is in peril. But most times, they're simply misreading the situation. Thanks, again, for stopping by and for commenting. Regards, Bob

    • peachpurple profile image

      peachy 4 years ago from Home Sweet Home

      wonderful article. I thought that our human scent deprive the mother from touching her babies. It is good to know the actual reasons for not touching these cute babies. Thanks for explaining so well. Voted useful