Field Reference for Wildlife Rescue: A Pocket Guide to Help You Help Them
Releasing an animal such as this is irresponsible not only because it is cruel to the humanized animal, but also because such fearless creatures can become dangerous to unsuspecting humans. For example, a hungry, lonely red-tailed hawk may land on someone's head, begging to be taken in and fed. And a "tame" raccoon can inflict a serious bite on an innocent bystander - a potentially life-threatening situation for the human, and a life-ending one for the animal due to the rabies risk and need for testing.
The only future for the imprint is lifelong captivity in a zoo or nature center (there are only so many homes available) and humane euthanasia.
In the wild, an animal is touched for three reasons: during breeding or when caring for its young, when defending its territory, or when it is being pursued and eaten by a predator. Man is a predator, and an approaching human, no matter what their intention, is something to be feared.
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Have gloves, containers and help ready before you attempt capture. Always transport quickly, as delays in treatment can cause irreversible injury or death to the animal, and always wash your hands thoroughly after touching a wild animal to reduce the possibility of the transmission of disease. If you are bitten by a wild mammal, try to contain it and contact police as soon as possible so rabies testing can be done. While rabies is treatable, shots are not pleasant or cheap, so it's best to try avoiding them by having the animal tested.
But sometimes it's not as easy to determine whether an animal needs your help, or simply needs to be left alone to slip away (or be picked up by a parent and whisked away) to a safe place. No one can raise a wild baby better than it's parent, so the decision to pick a baby up should never be made without careful thought.
If you have questions, call your sheriff's department or local Wildlife and Parks officer to find the rehabilitator nearest you. Reputable rehabilitators are licensed by the United States Fish and Game Department and the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks. Many are members of the International Wildlife Rehabilitators Association (IWRA), the National Wildlife Rehabilitators Association (NWRA), and all Kansas rehabilitaors should be registered with the Kansas Wildlife Rehabilitators Association (KWRA). Don't hesitate to ask for credentials!
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If you find a baby squirrel and none of the above scenarios apply, place it at the base of a tree in a shallow box with a towel or cloth to lie on and wait to see if the mother squirrel responds to the baby's calls for help. Most of the time the mother will come down to retrieve the baby within a few hours. Keep cats, dogs and people away from the area. Squirrels view people as predators, and won't retrieve their young if we're nearby.
If the mother doesn't return during the recommended time span, you should transport the baby to a rehabilitator immediately. NEVER pick up an injured squirrel of any age with your bare hands because they can really bite! Use a towel and/or heavy gloves, have a secure box ready, and transport quickly to avoid a "chew through!"
Opossums are usually weaned and independent when they are about 3 1/2 months old. At this age they are about nine inches long from nose to rump and should be left alone unless they are visibly hungry or injured.
If you suspect young cottontails have been orphaned, (and are not visibly stressed or starving) use a piece of string to make a circle around the nest and an "X" over it late in the afternoon. Check in the morning to see if the string has been disturbed. If it has and the babies appear well, then the mother has been there to feed them in the night. Young rabbits are able to care for themselves when they are about the size of a tennis ball. Their only need at this point is dense cover for protection.
When a rescue is necessary, place the rabbits in a small box that is lined with a towel. Drape excess material over them, tape the lid shut, and place them in a quiet, warm place until they can be transported to a rehabilitator. Do not handle unnecessarily, as they are prey animals and may appear tame when they are actually frozen with fear and going into shock. Handling can kill them!
Bats are a rabies risk, so capture by allowing them to climb on to a towel and placing the towel and animal in a box. These animals are very delicate and require specialized care, so call a rehabilitator right away.
Never assume a fawn is abandoned just because the mother is not in sight. Unless the fawn is clearly sick or injured, leave it alone and do not handle it. Call a rehabilitator if you need reassurance.
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If you find an injured, weak or unresponsive baby bird, call us. If it is moving, vocalizing, has not been in a cat or dog's mouth, and has no signs of injury, it needs to be returned to its nest. Young songbirds are fed every 15 to 20 minutes for up to 16 hours each day, so raising them is best left to their natural parents!
If the nest is unreachable, make a substitute nest using a berry basket, small margarine tub or plastic hanging plant pot. Make several holes in the bottom for drainage if there are none and line it with paper towels or kleenex to support the little bird's body in a sitting position. Hang the new nest out of harm's way and as close to the original nest as possible. Wait and watch from a distance for at least one hour to see if the parents are feeding the youngster.
If parents do not return, then place the bird, new nest and all, in a box in a warm, quiet place and immediately call a wildlife rehabilitator. DO NOT give food or water without instructions. Most foods readily at hand will make the bird sick, and the opening to a bird's lungs is on the floor of it's mouth, so water from an eyedropper can easily cause sudden death or irreversible harm.
If you find a raptor that needs help, contact a rehabilitator immediately. Since they use their talons and beaks for tearing up their prey, all raptors - even babies - can inflict serious wounds and should be considered dangerous. If you must catch a raptor and transport it, never use your bare hands. Use a towel and heavy gloves to move the bird. Put it in a cardboard box, tape the lid shut and take it immediately to a rehabilitator. Minimizing stress and avoiding further injury will increase it's chances of recovery and eventual return to the wild.
Babies should only be rescued if the family can not be found, or if they are in immediate danger from pets or other urban dangers. Occasionally, mother ducks will hatch their brood in the middle of town and the family may need some assistance (holding traffic for safe street crossings, etc.) getting to nearby water. Sometimes they may need to be captured and relocated. Call your local rehabilitator for assistance.
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Written by Diane Johnson, RVT, Amy Albright, and Christy Kennedy
Diane Johnson is founder and director of the rehabilitation program Operation WildLife (OWL) in Linwood, KS. Established in 1989, OWL is now the largest rehabilitaion and public education organization in the state of Kansas. Ms. Johnson is a registered veterinarian technician, and in addition to the more-than-full-time job of running OWL, she has three human children of her own!
Amy Albright has been a wildlife rehabilitator since 1987, and was a full-time program manager for a large rehabilitation organization from 1989 until 1992, when she became a volunteer at Operation Wildlife. She's responsible for designing the Operation WildLife newsletter and other program projects, and is imprinting her own two small children!
Christy Kennedy has been a wildlife rehabilitator since 1981, and as director of a large rehabilitaion program did ground-breaking work in the field in both rehabilitation work and public education. She has been semi-retired for awhile, working as editor for the Operation WildLife newsletter and taking in a "few" orphans each summer. She has four kids - that's a lot of future rehabilitators!
Field Reference for Wildlife Rescue" Copyright 1997 Operation WildLife
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