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Field Reference for Wildlife Rescue: A Pocket Guide to Help You Help Them

Contents

Introduction
Wild Animals Make Bad Pets!
Thanks for caring

General Steps
Be Safe
Assess the Situation
Reduce Stress
Get Help

Mammals
Squirrel
Opossum
Rabbit
Fox, Coyote and Bobcat
Bat

Mammals, cont.
Raccoon
Skunk
Deer

Birds
Songbirds
Raptors
Waterfowl and Gamebirds

Reptiles
Turtle
Snake

Authors

 

Introduction

Wild Animals Make Bad Pets!

Few things are as cute as baby animals. When young, they seem like they could easily be hand-reared and tamed to be kept as unique, exotic pets. Though well-intentioned, this arrangement always winds up sadly (and is illegal). Inevitably, the animal grows up and becomes too out-of-control for the "owner," and by the time the rehabilitator is called, it's too late. Mammals reared in this way are habituated or familiarized with humans. Birds are called imprints because they have been taught that they are human. Neither can identify with their own species properly, nor can they even find their own food and shelter since their "parents" never taught them how.

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.

Thanks for Caring

It's a hassle to have to drop what your doing and deal with that darned bunch of baby bunnies that Fido just dropped on the kitchen floor. Those people who go the extra mile by calling for help and driving 30 miles to get the animals to the help they need are truly heros.


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General Steps

Be Safe

If you find a wild animal that needs help, it is your job to avoid injury to yourself, and further injury and stress to the animal. Call a rehabilitator to help you decide what to do, and how to do it.

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.

Assess the Situation

When a wild animal is hit by a car, shot illegally, poisoned, injured by a trap, fence, window, powerline or fishhook, displaced by construction, caught by a cat or dog, or posessed illegally as a "pet," nature's course can take a cruel turn - human intervention is obviously warranted.

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.

Reduce Stress

Wild animals are fun to observe in natural circumstances, but they can be dangerous, especially when cornered, injured and in pain. Often people claim an animal "knows" it is being helped - wishful thinking at best! A seemingly "cooperative" animal is often extremely weak, in shock, and near death.

Get Help

Rehabilitators have a wealth of information on the natural history and habits of wildlife, and are a valuable resource to the general public when wild animals become pests, as well as for emergencies when wild animals are injured or orphaned. If you find an adult wild animal that needs assistance, it is always best to call a wildlife rehabilitator for information before you attempt a rescue if it is possible!

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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Mammals

Squirrel

squirrelGray and fox squirrels are common throughout Kansas, and nest high in trees in holes or large leafy nests. Some common problems with squirrels include: falling, being hit by cars, being caught by cats and dogs, and being orphaned. A baby squirrel needs help if:
  • It is a neonate (naked with eyes closed) and is on the ground.
  • It is a juvenile who runs up to you or is emitting a high-pitched, squeaking distress call.
  • It is lying on the ground obviously injured or otherwise unable to run away.
  • It has been caught by a cat or a dog even if there are no visible wounds.

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!"

Opossum

opossumOpossums are North America's only marsupial and are nocturnal, preferring wooded bottomlands. Because they are so slow, the urban opossum's worst enemy is the automobile. If an adult female is found dead, there may be babies in her pouch or clinging to her back. The young must be removed from the mother and placed in a warm, dry box with a sock or stocking cap to hide in. Do not try to feed or water them - just transport quickly to a rehabilitator.

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.

Rabbit

Cottontails nest in shallow, hand-sized depressions in the ground. Look for small bare spots near patches of dried grass before mowing lawns. Leave nests undisturbed, and keep cats, dogs and children away. The mothers are rarely seen visiting the nest because they feed their young just twice each day - at dawn and dusk.

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!

Fox, Coyote and Bobcat

coyoteThese mammals use hollow areas or dens to raise their young. The females can be very protective and aggressive if they feel their young are being threatened. If you have any fox, coyote or bobcat problem, call a rehabilitator for assistance.

Bat

Bats are most commonly found at two times of year. First, during winter warm-ups when they sometimes come out of their cold weather torpor prematurely. When this occurs, they must be over-wintered for the rest of the season with a balanced diet and exact environmental controls. Second, mothers are sometimes overloaded by the weight of their young and/or overcome by heavy winds during spring storms, landing these small families on the cold, wet ground. They sometimes suffer injuries and require time to heal and regain strength before being returned to the wild.

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.

Raccoon

raccoonRaccoons are nocturnal and make their homes in hollow cavities. Urban raccoons often use attics and chimneys for nesting areas. Capping chimneys and repairing holes in eaves can detour these unwelcome guests. When rescuing baby raccoons, wear heavy gloves and place the animals in a sturdy box with a towel at the bottom. Put the box in a warm, quiet place and call a rehabilitator immediately. Never handle raccoons of any age with your bare hands - they can carry several different potentially fatal diseases which are infectious to humans, most notably, rabies!

Skunk

The most common skunk calls received by rehabilitators are those of orphaned babies and adults acting strangely. Because skunks are the number one rabies carrier in Kansas, adult animals are usually humanely euthanized when found wandering in close proximity to people. Treatment of certain conditions is difficult for obvious, odiferous reasons, and advanced distemper and rabies are impossible to treat. Babies can be hand-reared for release, but should not be handled either as they can be rabies carriers. Call a rehabilitator to help you assess the situation before attempting capture if at all possible.

Deer

deerJust moments after birth, a fawn is able to stand and walk. The doe will lead the fawn to a secluded spot and leave it there while she feeds nearby. The fawn is safe because it's color pattern and lack of scent help to keep it virtually undetected by predators.

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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Birds

Songbirds

birdHatchlings are featherless with eyes shut, are unable to sit upright and can't maintain body heat - they are totally helpless. Nestlings are several days old and lightly feathered with down. Their eyes are open and they are able to walk and perch. Hatchlings and nestlings found on the ground do not belong there and need to be rescued. Fledglings have feathers and can walk, hop and perch. They have left the nest and will spend several days on the ground or in bushes until they master flight and self-feeding. The parents remain nearby and continue to provide food and care, so fledglings should be left alone unless injured. Keep cats, dogs and curious children away.

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.

Raptors

owlOwls, hawks, falcons and eagles are called raptors or birds of prey. Fledgling raptors leave the nest before they are able to fly. Often, the young are found sitting on branches far from the nest. This is normal and the parents still provide care for them, so you should never interfere with a young raptor unless it is obviously injured or ill.

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.

Waterfowl and Gamebirds

gooseThe young of these birds hatch out of the egg covered with down and are precocial, meaning they can walk, run and feed themselves shortly after hatching. A chick separated from the rest of the group should be returned quickly and quietly. These birds are very social, and the young must be raised in large groups.

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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Reptiles

Turtle

The most common species of turtles seen by rehabilitators are snapping turtles and box turtles. Both get hit by cars often, and sometimes can be rehabilitated and released. When attempting to capture snappers, great care must be taken even with small specimens, as they can cause serious injury to their captors. Any turtle can bite, so call a rehabilitator for advice.

Snake

snakeThese beneficial creatures are sometimes wrongly identified as venomous and destroyed. The most common species found by people are non-venomous, including black rat, garter, prairie king, and ringneck snakes. Snakes are unsurpassed at vermin control and whenever possible should be left alone. Call for advice and identification assistance.


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Authors

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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