When people encounter wild animals that appear to be injured or orphaned, they often want to do what they can to help. The Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) Division of Wildlife advises people to leave them alone.
Each year, wildlife officers and biologists try to educate local residents about the dangers of handling wild animals. Al-though they may appear helpless, wild animals are capable of biting, scratching and transmitting diseases to humans and pets.
According to ODNR, state and federal laws protect all wildlife species in Ohio. Only individuals who obtain a permit from the Division of Wildlife may keep a native wild animal. Due to the obstacles in providing the proper care and diet for wild animals, only trained and licensed wildlife rehabilitators are authorized to take them in once injured or orphaned.
Gary Comer, a biologist with the Division of Wildlife, said the most common wild animals taken in by well-meaning humans are birds, baby rabbits and white tailed deer. Each year, wildlife officers issue summons to individuals who have taken wildlife, particularly fawns, out of the wild, though their intent was to help.
“A lot of people will find a fawn unattended and assume it’s been abandoned,” said Comer. “The mother can actually leave the fawn for up to 10 days.”
The division advises anyone who picks up a fawn to put it back where they found it. A doe will protect her offspring from predators by leaving it alone for long periods. The fawn may be hidden in a hay field, a grassy meadow, the edge of a lawn, or even in a flowerbed. The doe will stay away until after dark, and then return to nurse.
Birds are common animals that people encounter and try to help. Comer said many people think because a bird fell out of its nest, that it is injured or abandoned, but that is not always the case.
“Sometimes the baby bird is too big for the nest or its siblings push it out,” Comer said, “but that does not mean it’s not being taken care of.”
He explained that mother birds would feed their young on the ground. It is a common misconception that once a baby bird is handled by a human, the mother will reject it. ODNR says this is not true. It is not advised to handle birds that have fallen from the next, but people can pick it up and place it back in its nest.
“The best advice is to leave any wild animal put,” said Comer. “It’s their best chance for survival.”
Wild animals can carry parasites or diseases harmful to humans and domestic animals including distemper, roundworms and rabies. ODNR says the risk if disease is a good reason to leave wildlife where it belongs—in the wild.
If the wild animal is truly injured, (broken legs or wings or wounds or bleeding) then contact the Division of Wildlife, central Ohio at 644-3925. Animal experts can advise you what to do.
ODNR also offers the following advice:
• Think before you act—Check for nests before cutting down trees or clearing brush. It is best to cut trees and clear brush in the autumn when nesting season is over.
• Use common sense—If you disturb a nest, replace the animals and the nest material to the original location or as close as possible. If you find a fawn; leave it where it was found.
• Keep pets under control—Domestic animals can raid nests and injure wild animals. Keep your pets vaccinated against parasites and diseases.
• Educate children—Teach children to respect wildlife and its habitat. Emphasize to your children not to catch, handle or harass wild animals.
For additional tips and information, contact your local wildlife officer.