Animal Conservation

Young wild animals should be left alone by humans


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I was walking up a stream, then crossing a meadow, looking for the next good body of trout water.

It was late May and the grass was almost hip height.

As I was about to take another step, I looked down for some reason, and there was a little white-tailed fawn huddled just below my boot.

Oops.

I stopped and looked around. There was no doe in sight, but I didn’t expect there to be. They usually leave their babies while they are feeding, which allows them to lure potential predators. Coyotes, foxes, raccoons and other toothy and hungry creatures, even bears, know when birthing season is coming. Most of these won’t treat a healthy adult deer, but a fallen fawn is easy to pick up.

I took a good look at the fawn, lying so still and silent, and continued. In general, this is what you should do when you encounter young animals and birds in the wild.

Of course, sometimes you can’t stop this from happening. Another time on that same stream I was dragging myself on a bleed, and as I walked down the other side a hen turkey burst under the logs and flew upstream. I almost had a heart attack. I looked under the log and there was a nest there with a dozen or more eggs. I continued to fish and was back at this location a few days later and checked the nest. There was no hen, but there were a number of broken shells and a pile of cold eggs. I don’t know if any turkeys hatched, or if the hen left the nest because of my previous presence, or if an animal ruined everything.

There are also times when if you tend to care for or adopt young wild animals, you get more than you bargained for. An animal-loving friend told me that when she was little she found several cute little creatures in a ditch. She didn’t know exactly what they were, but she brought them home anyway. Her mother couldn’t identify them either, but her father certainly could: they were baby rats. Needless to say, they were sent back into the wild, or semi-wild, or maybe the wild blue out there, very quickly.

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The desire to care for seemingly parentless young wild animals is admirable, but the Department of Environmental Conservation advises against it. Or, more specifically, campaign strongly against it with its annual “If you care, leave it there” press release.

Why leave young wild animals alone?

On the one hand, it is illegal to keep wild animals as pets, if that is the intention. They are not well adapted to life in captivity and can quickly become a burden. They can also be vectors of diseases transmissible to humans. I know of a few stories of wild animals that turned out to be good pets or at least entertaining, but at least a few more about animals that got into big trouble and ended up getting destroyed.

White-tailed deer fawns are perhaps the most recognizable and probably the most frequently encountered young “orphan” wild animals. In some cases, a fawn might have lost its mother, but you usually can’t see the mother because she is some distance away. White tails tend to keep their distance from their fawns, except when nursing. After a few weeks, the young deer become more and more independent and are usually weaned in late summer.

Chicks can fall from nests and, again, should be left where they are. Like deer, many adult birds will stay a good distance from ready-to-fly young, keeping an eye on them, coming to feed them, and herding them in thick areas for protection. Some species also like to try to trick you – fly out of the nesting area or put on a broken wing to try and lead you in pursuit of a wild goose, so to speak. And, speaking of geese – not my favorite birds, regardless of the variety – they can be annoying during nesting season and certainly don’t want your help with their goslings. Most authorities don’t think geese have a lot of biting force, but you won’t like to get pinched. In addition, they can deliver hot shots with their wings. They are definitely critters to avoid, young and old.

If you find an animal that is clearly injured or orphaned, the DEC suggests that you contact a licensed wildlife rehabilitator. There are several in Oneida County, and contact details are available at www.dec.ny.gov/cfmx/extapps/sls_searches/index.cfm?p=live_rehab.

Write to John Pitarresi at 60 Pearl Street, New Hartford, NY 13413 or [email protected] or call him at 315-724-5266.

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