Monday, June 20, 2011

If You Care, Leave Them There

As a tour guide at the Maine Wildlife Park and a volunteer for Misfits Rehab, a local wildlife rescue, I have heard a lot of stories of how animals are affected by humans, and vice versa. You may remember my post about the raccoons Abbott, Costello and Napoleon. I am a strong advocate for wildlife and animal rescues. As I walk tour groups of children through the wildlife park, introducing them to all of the fascinating species and giving them interesting facts about the animals I repeat the same phrase.

If you care, leave them there.

This is the time of year that turtles are breeding, which means a lot of them are crossing the road during the day. The first common mistake most people make is to pick that turtle up and take them back to the side of the road. The side he or she is coming from. Turtles have amazing senses of direction and will simply attempt to cross the road again. They have a destination is mind and are determined to get there. The next person to come down that road may not care as much as you did to avoid hitting the turtle.

The other mistake is to take them home as a pet. There are so many things wrong with this plan. First of all most states have specific laws about legal and illegal species citizens can keep as pets. In Maine keeping a wild animal as a pet is at least a $1,000 fine. This is for the protection of the state's wildlife and for the protection of the people of Maine.

If you care, leave them there.

A few years ago a group of people found a baby deer under a bush. A wildlife rehabilitator came across the group and tried to tell the people that they needed to leave the fawn alone. Mother deer leave their babies hiding in a safe, secluded location while they find food. They rely on the baby's camouflage to protect it from predators and return for it later. This licensed wildlife rehabilitator attempted to tell the collecting crowd of people this but they refused to believe her, insisting the deer needed "rescuing". It's highly likely the mother was nearby, afraid to draw attention to herself and unable to return to her baby.

This is also common with rabbits, who only feed their babies twice a day. Throughout the day those babies are left alone in a nest. If you come across them and they look round and plump they don't need help. If you're not sure, don't take them. Call a professional for advice first.

If you care, leave them there.

And of course, rabies. Rabies, and other diseases, are prevalent in many different species of animals. Wildlife professionals are vaccinated against rabies in order to safely handle them, and they still are required to wear gloves. As the story above of Abbott, Costello and Napoleon shows, even an animal that doesn't have rabies can suffer because of human handling.

If you care, leave them there.

If you're positive the animal you have come across needs assistance there are a few things to remember:

The first is to never touch a wild animal with your bare hands. Even an injured or baby animal can bite, can pass diseases (including rabies) and can carry parasites. If you have to move the animal do so with a protective barrier between yourself and the animal, such as gloves, a towel, a box, etc.

Second, call a professional. There are many websites, including this one, where you can find a licensed professional to assist you in helping the animal. Make a note of where you have found the animal if you are the one transporting it so that after the rescue it can be released as close to its natural habitat as possible. If you're someone who spends a lot of time outdoors, write down some numbers and keep them in your backpack or program them into your phone so that you can easily and quickly contact a wildlife professional.

I commend anyone who wants to help an animal, but even with the best intentions, someone who hasn't educated themselves about wildlife can do more harm than good. If you really want to help that animal and feel like a hero, make the right decisions. Know what you're doing, and follow the advice of professionals.


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