In the last few weeks here in Wyoming, there have been two high profile cases of humans “rescuing” young wildlife.
The first was tourists in Yellowstone who picked up a shivering bison calf, put it in the back of their SUV and drove to a ranger station because they thought he was cold and needed help. The second was a local Wyoming family who saw a newborn pronghorn antelope fawn in the highway. Concerned for the fawn’s safety, they picked it up, put it in the vehicle with them and their three dogs and drove to a nearby bait store to contact the Wyoming Game and Fish Department.
Attempts by park officials to reunite the bison calf with its herd were unsuccessful and the calf had to be euthanized. Only time will tell on the outcome for the pronghorn antelope fawn, but its chances of survival are pretty slim.
These aren’t isolated incidents. Each year, the Wyoming Game and Fish Department deals with “rescued” young wildlife. People bring in wildlife like young birds, rabbits, fawns, squirrels and even bobcat and mountain lion kittens, believing the young have been abandoned. Sometimes these animals can be returned to the wild successfully. But more often these animals must be euthanized, because reintroduction is not possible or there are simply no available rehabilitation facilities available to care for the animals.
When you encounter young wildlife that you perceive is orphaned or in trouble and feel the need to intervene, please remember this…
I cannot make it any more clear than that. Just don’t. Call your state wildlife agency for advice and assistance. If you feel you just absolutely must act to get the animal out of immediate danger, say out of the way of oncoming traffic, move the animal to the side of the road and move on. Don’t put it in your car. Don’t linger. Don’t take selfies. Give the animal its greatest chance of survival by minimizing your encounter as much as possible.
So what’s the harm in helping young wildlife? Plenty. Here are five reasons you should think twice before intervening with newborn wildlife.
It is illegal. State and federal laws forbid possession of game and many nongame animals, so adopting newborn wildlife is illegal. Citations can be issued for possession of newborn wildlife with the possible penalty of several hundred dollars in fines.
It can be dangerous for you. Wildlife carry diseases and bugs that can be transmitted to you. These diseases can make you and your family very, very ill. If someone with a compromised immune system would contract one of these diseases, it could even potentially kill them. I’m talking diseases like rabies, tularemia, salmonella and campylobacter. You can also catch some pretty nasty bugs from the young, like fleas, mange or lice. As can your pets that come into contact with the wildlife. Believe me, mange is not something you want to mess with.
Some wildlife are also incredibly protective of their young. You might not see mom, but she’s probably nearby. You’ve heard the expression “mama grizzly?” You don’t want to see it in action! Bears, moose and even deer will defend their young very vigorously. Don’t be on the receiving end of the wrath of one of these moms.
They aren’t really orphaned. Wildlife moms aren’t like human moms. Moms don’t, and simply can’t, stay by their newborn’s side every minute of the day. Mom needs to eat and drink and can’t always take her young with her. Or she has sensed danger and had her young hide while she lured the danger away from the location. Mom knows where her young are and will almost always return to care for them. Obviously when you physically move the animal then you are breaking that mother-young bond. And if you linger in the area, you are keeping mom away from her young, thereby actually endangering an animal that was never in trouble in the first place.
These animals could also be ready to strike out on their own. Birds and bunnies grow up and need to leave the nest. They might still be vulnerable, but it is time for them to spread their wings, literally, and fly. Or hunt. Young coyotes, fox and wolves will range away from their families while they learn valuable survival skills.
Wildlife encounters are best left to the experts. Again, unless the young is in immediate danger, back away and contact your local state wildlife agency. If you don’t know that number, contact the non-emergency number for your local sheriff and ask to get in contact with a wildlife officer. These are the folks that are trained in dealing with wildlife. You might love animals and be an avid wildlife viewer or hunter, as I am. But people like Outdoor Guy, The Warden and other wildlife biologists have dedicated their education and careers to learning how to properly manage these important natural resources. Please trust that these folks will do their very best to manage the public’s resource. Sometimes you might not agree with their decisions, but they really do know what is best for the wildlife population as a whole.
You are imposing human values on a natural system. Wildlife don’t really need to be saved from the very thing that makes them wild in the first place– nature. Their lives and deaths are all part of a natural system. To us,, nature and ecological processes might seem harsh and heartless. But it really is the circle of life. I know it is hard to sit back and watch an animal suffer. But when we intervene and impose our human values on a natural system, the wildlife, and the natural system lose.
I understand the emotions at play with the two high profile cases of animal rescue. I’m a mother and animal lover and as tender-hearted as they come. But it doesn’t matter if I have the best of intentions – when I intervene I am disrupting the ebb and flow of nature and it looses a little bit of wildness because of it.
Think about it this way – for every animal that dies, others get to live. We’ll take the example of the pronghorn antelope fawn. If it had gotten hit on the highway, it’s body would have been nourishment for a variety of scavengers, like eagles, crows, ravens, vultures, raccoon, coyotes and even mountain lions. And the cycle of life would have continued. Is it pretty? Well, no, not from a human-based belief. But it natural and wild. And isn’t that what draws us to these animals, these spaces in the first place?
And what if that young animal can’t be reunited with its family? Do you want that elk calf or bobcat to have to grow up in captivity? Is that always the better choice? I can’t answer these questions for you, because they depend on your attitude and experiences and values.
But for me, I try to remember, mother usually does know best, whether that be a wildlife mother or Mother Nature. If we all work together, we can welp keep our wild places and wildlife wild.