Call before intervening with orphaned or injured wildlife

Closeup of two orphaned fawns.
These two orphaned fawns were brought last spring to Washington State University’s Veterinary Teaching Hospital. Every year, many healthy fawns are mistaken as orphans and brought to the hospital. If you suspect wildlife is orphaned or injured call a wildlife rehabilitator first.

As the weather continues to warm, veterinarians at Washington State University are asking anyone who suspects orphaned or injured wildlife may be in need of care to call a wildlife rehabilitator before intervening.

Dr. Marcie Logsdon, an exotics veterinarian at WSU’s Veterinary Teaching Hospital, said it is easy to mistake a healthy baby for one that may be orphaned or injured.

“Calling first allows us to cut back on unintentional kidnappings, when healthy babies are accidentally stolen from their parents by good Samaritans,” said Logsdon.

She said calling ahead allows a wildlife rehabilitator the chance to assess the situation and walk the good Samaritan through the process to ensure the animal needs veterinary care. It also provides an opportunity to discuss how to safely handle the animal in question.

Logsdon said deer fawns are especially vulnerable to “kidnappings.” Young fawns are safely hidden away and left by themselves during the day while their mother grazes elsewhere. This is to prevent predators from noticing fawns when they are young and vulnerable. During this period the mother usually visits the fawn twice a day to feed and move it, and so it is important that they be left where they are found.

Every year, fawns in hiding are taken from their parents and brought to WSU and other wildlife rehabilitators.

“They don’t do well in rehabilitation settings,” Logsdon said. “They are difficult to raise appropriately, take a lot of time and energy, and they are losing out on the opportunity to learn important survival skills from their mother. No one does it better than mom and we want to make sure, if possible, these babies stay with mom.”

Logsdon said people should also call a local wildlife rehabilitator before intervening if they see damaged nests or nests in undesirable locations.

In the event of a blown down or damaged nest, squirrels, raccoons, and other small mammals often have a second nesting site already in mind, Logsdon said.

“If the baby is not in immediate danger, always give the parents a chance to come back and move their babies first,” she said, noting reuniting baby squirrels, rabbits and raccoons can be more difficult after human intervention.

Logsdon said keeping pets away from fallen nestlings should be the first thing a good Samaritan does when they locate injured or orphaned wildlife.

Logsdon said many fallen bird nestlings can be placed back in the nest or in a replacement nest nearby so the mother can find her chicks. She notes it is a myth that wildlife parents will abandon their babies if a human touches them.

“They just want their baby back, they don’t care what it smells like,” she said.

“We’re happy to walk people through these types of situations, that is what we are here for.”

Through the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife website anyone in the state can locate the nearest licensed wildlife rehabilitator. You can also call our wildlife department at 509-335-0711.

“Wildlife rehabilitation is about improving wildlife-human interactions. People see animals that could be injured or orphaned, often because of human activities, and understandably they want to help,” Logsdon said. “We just want to make sure we are actively helping, and not doing more harm than good.”

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