Baby rabbits, fawns and other baby wildlife should be left alone
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.
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 my home state of 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.
Many state environmental agencies have adopted the motto: If You Care, Leave Them There. Words the rest of us should live by.