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The call: “I found an injured animal!”

With trees blossoming and warm weather, spring is in the air! Seasonal changes are beginning to appear, which also means changes for both humans and local wildlife. As members of the same ecosystem, we will be more likely to run into furry, scaly, and feathered friends while we (and they) are enjoying the spring, and we have an impact on one another.

As we continue our One Health conservation message for the year, I thought this would be a good time to highlight one of the ways that humans and wild animals have contact – when people help injured wildlife.

I get a lot of calls and text messages from panicked friends, family, and neighbors that have found wildlife that they think could be injured or orphaned and want to know what to do next. There’s been a distressed hawk a with broken wing, baby raccoon in a cardboard box, lots of fledgling birds, and a long list of others. I’m not a wildlife rehabilitator, but I am a Zoo educator who has been asked these questions many times, so I do have some good resources that can help. After reading this blog, YOU can be the one to help your friends and family in these situations by knowing what to do (or not do) and who to contact. An animal’s life could depend on it!

Sometimes these situations are animals tangled in fishing line or plastic, you can visibly see an open wound, or there are dead parents or siblings near them and it’s very clear the animal needs help. In other situations, the animal may be much more likely to survive if left alone.

Here are a few things to think about as you evaluate a situation:

  • Young animals that are alone may be okay! It’s not uncommon for adults to leave their offspring alone to find food, but they will return. If we assume the young animal is orphaned and take it, we may be removing an animal from its parent’s care, where it is most likely to survive. If you are worried, observe the animal for a day or two. Often times waiting is the best option, even if we are tempted to intervene.
  • Do not give injured wildlife food or water unless told to do so by a vet or wildlife rehabilitator.
  • Do not try to capture animals that are rabies vectors. The most common in the United States are bats, foxes, raccoons, and skunks; however, any mammal can carry rabies. Talk to a rehabber or vet before taking action. Humans can contract rabies from animals, primarily from bites, but it is also possible to spread through an animal’s saliva if it gets into scratches or open wounds on our bodies. It does not spread through urine and feces or through touching an animal.
  • Reptiles and amphibians can carry salmonellaWash your hands as soon immediately after handling them (this includes pets). This especially applies to children 5 and under and adults over the age of 65, or those who are immunocompromised and most susceptible to salmonella.
  • Put baby birds back in their nest. When birds are fledging and learning to fly, they are usually not very good at it right away and can fall to the ground. If the bird has feathers and open eyes, it is likely learning to fly, and the parents are close by. It’s best to leave them where they are. If a baby bird has not developed feathers and/or its eyes are not open, you should look for the nest and put it back. If you can’t find a nest, put it under the tree or bush where you found it. It is a myth that adult birds can “smell” when a human has handled a chick and will no longer care for it, so try to get them back to their parents!

What if you are sure this animal does need help?

  • Stay calm. If an animal is injured or in distress, stay calm and quiet, and not don’t handle them unless absolutely necessary for moving them.
  • Contact a wildlife rehabber immediately. Your best option is for them to provide instructions for next steps.
  • If you need to handle an animal, follow the instructions of the experts: Read this great article from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service that has details about helping fawns (baby deer), rabbits, squirrels, and baby birds.

AND

  • Check out this helpful guide from AWARE for what to do (and avoid doing) if you do need to handle an animal to get them to the rehabber or vet clinic.
  • It’s okay if you are unsure and wait for help.

Who do you contact?

A few additional tips:

  • Keep your pets vaccinated for rabies.
  • Prevent pets from having contact with wildlife.
  • Keep cats indoors. Outdoor domestic cats are the biggest threat to birds in the United States in Canada, killing millions per year, and have a huge impact on other wildlife. According to the American Bird Conservancy, outdoor cats have caused the extinction of 63 species of birds, small mammals, and reptiles.
  • When you can do so safely, move turtles across the road. Always place them on the other side of the road in the same direction they were headed – do not relocate them to a new habitat. Follow the steps in this post by USFWS.
  • Most people have the best intentions but don’t always know how to help wildlife in need. Tell others about these resources and what you have learned.

Sources:

Animal help now – emergency resource. Animal Help Now – Emergency Resource. (n.d.). Retrieved March 5, 2022, from https://ahnow.org/#/

Aware wildlife center. AWARE Wildlife Center. (n.d.). Retrieved March 5, 2022, from https://www.awarewildlife.org/

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2022, January 6). Animals and rabies. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved March 5, 2022, from https://www.cdc.gov/rabies/animals/index.html

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2015, September 24). Salmonella infection. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved March 5, 2022, from https://www.cdc.gov/healthypets/diseases/salmonella.html 

Keep the ‘wild’ in wildlife: Don’t touch or feed – fws. (n.d.). Retrieved March 5, 2022, from https://www.fws.gov/news/blog/index.cfm/2015/1/15/keep-the-wild-in-wildlife-dont-touch-or-feed

Should we help it? Should we help it? | U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. (2022, March 4). Retrieved March 5, 2022, from https://www.fws.gov/story/should-we-help-it

Sick, injured or orphaned wildlife. Sick, Injured or Orphaned Wildlife | Department Of Natural Resources Division. (n.d.). Retrieved March 5, 2022, from https://gadnr.org/sick-injured-or-orphaned-wildlife

Service, U. S. F. and W. (2018, November 13). Tips for helping a turtle cross the road. Medium. Retrieved March 5, 2022, from https://medium.com/usfws/turtles-are-crossing-the-road-96dafc2b3515

Toronto Wildlife Centre. (n.d.). I Found A Baby Bird…How Can I Help?

Wildlife Rescue and rehabilitation in Roswell, GA. Rescue and Rehabilitation in Roswell, GA. (2020, March 11). Retrieved March 5, 2022, from https://www.chattnaturecenter.org/visit/experience/wildlife/

Melissa King
Manager of Public Programs

Connect With Your Wild Side #onlyzooatl