Leaving wildlife alone

This fawn might look orphaned to some, but chances are, its mother is nearby. The Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources is warning the public that they should leave wild animals alone, although they might need to call a wildlife rehabilitator in cases of true abandonment or injury.

At this time of year, newborn animals are just about everywhere. Experts warn that you should always leave them alone, and if you think one is injured or abandoned, call a professional to take care of it.

A recent news release from the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources said that as more people venture outdoors with the onset of warmer weather, encounters with newborn animals are likely to occur. Though young wildlife may seem vulnerable, the mother is likely nearby, which is why KDFWR recommends leaving young animals undisturbed.

“This time of year, anyone spending time outdoors has the chance of accidentally stumbling upon baby animals,” said Ben Robinson, assistant director of the department’s Wildlife Division. “The parents will often leave their young unattended, but they usually aren’t too far away.”

KDFWR said late spring is the peak of deer fawning season, and this causes many well-intentioned people concerned about seemingly abandoned young wildlife to call the department.

“The best thing to do is leave them alone, even if they look abandoned,” Robinson said. “Chances are, they’re just fine. The mother will be watching and listening from a distance.”

KDFWR said only permitted wildlife rehabilitators may keep orphaned or injured wildlife. “In instances where a fawn is obviously injured or where the mother deer was observed being hit by a car, a wildlife rehabilitator can be called,” the news release said. 

Beth Ott with Western Kentucky Wildlife Rescue and Rehabilitation said she hears from a lot of people who spotted animals they think need help. Although most animals are not abandoned and do not need help, Ott said she and others at the non-profit organization do often take calls where assistance is actually needed.

“I’m getting calls every day,” Ott said. “The majority will put them back, but there are some (animals) that are covered in fly eggs or following (the person) around crying and they can’t get up and stand. Those kinds do need help. I just picked up a baby raccoon in Paducah that the guy found in the middle of the road. He needed help; he’s skin and bones. Another one I was going to pick was the same thing. But stealing them when they don’t need to be taken is wrong.”

Ott said if an animal is lying down comfortably and doesn’t look like it’s in distress, it’s most likely safe. Although there have been some false alarms, she said most of the calls she has received have involved animals that actually needed help.

“Right now, mothers are going out with their babies, and what’s happening is the baby finds something interesting and the mother moves on with the other ones and then the baby can’t find the mother anymore,” Ott said. “Then people find the baby, but they need help. They’re not going to find their mom again.”

According to KDFWR, it is illegal in Kentucky for anyone to transport and hold live native wildlife. Captive wildlife permits are issued as “commercial” or “noncommercial.” The only exceptions to this law are northern bobwhite quail and native reptiles and amphibians.  KDFWR said 100 or fewer northern bobwhite quail may be possessed for personal use without a permit, provided the birds are not propagated or sold, that they are legally obtained and the confining facilities meet regulatory requirements. Up to five individuals of each species of native reptile or amphibian may be taken year-round from the wild, or legally obtained from a breeder and possessed for personal use without a permit, KDFWR said. 

Ott said she tries very hard to get people to understand the legal consequences of intervening with wild animals.

“I’ve had a lot of people post on Facebook, ‘Hey, can somebody help me with this baby raccoon?’ or a baby squirrel, and other people will say, ‘I want it!’ or ‘I’ll take it!’” Ott said. “It’s illegal to do that. You can’t even possess a baby robin. … It is illegal to possess any wildlife unless you have a rehabilitator’s license. It comes with a fine, (and if you are caught), it comes with the baby being taken. And a lot of times, they euthanize them. Raccoons get big and mean, and raising them with your family dog is just not the right thing to do because the first thing the raccoon is going to do when you release him … is he’s going to find a dog. That dog is not going to be a friendly dog, and he’s going to kill him.”

Concerning deer, KDFWR said fawns are carefully groomed by their mothers to minimize their scent and therefore reduce vulnerability to predators. “They survive by spending much of their time motionless and bedded down until they are about a month old,” the release said. “At that age, they are strong enough to follow their mother. The fawn’s reddish-brown coat patterned with pale spots helps camouflage them in dappled sunlight.

“Landowners who encounter a fawn that is in the way of cutting hay or mowing can move it a short distance out of the way. The mother should still be able to find the fawn using sight, vocalization or scent when she returns to nurse it.”

KDFWR also said songbirds, some reptiles and amphibians, and most mammals also raise young during the springtime.

“Rabbits can start nesting as early as February and they’ll go throughout the spring and summer months,” Robinson said. “Often times, people will stumble across a rabbit den in their yard or at a park and wonder what they can do to help. The best thing they can do is simply leave it alone.”

Placing a flag or a stake near the spot can help mark the nest site for reference when mowing in the future, KDFWR said.

“Newly hatched songbirds are also going to be out and about learning to fly, so don’t be alarmed if you see them on the ground, awkwardly trying to fly,” Robinson said. “Parents are still looking after them.”

Ott said that if you spot an animal that does seem to need help, make sure to not touch it and call someone who is licensed to deal with wildlife. She said she can be reached at 270-349-4389.

“If people have questions, call me,” she said. “I can help them out.”

For a searchable list of wildlife rehabilitators, visit fw.ky.gov