Wyoming wildlife officials warn against handling baby animals

Monday , May 14, 2012 - 2:59 PM

Kelsey Dayton

GREEN RIVER, Wyo -- They are irresistibly cute. And if the thought they are sad, lonely or abandoned enters a person's mind, the pull on the heartstrings can be too much to bear. But picking up wild baby animals rarely leads to anything good.

With the arrival of spring, Wyoming sheriff's offices and wildlife officials have received calls about young animals peopleare certain need human care. The Uinta County Sheriff's Officehas already received three calls about baby songbirds, said Lucy Wold, a Green River information and education specialist with the Wyoming Game and Fish Department.

It starts with baby birds, then come rabbits, antelope fawns and bats.

People often come across baby animals while the mothers hide, leading some observers to think the babies have been abandoned and will be left to die, Wold said.

"Most people, their hearts are in the right place," she said.

Yet animals removed from the wild rarely survive. It's difficult to raise wild animals, she said.

Wold knows. A couple of years ago, someone brought in rabbits that kids found while digging in the yard. They worried a dog would hurt the animals. Wold, who has raised rabbits, took several of them and cared for them for about a week before they could be re-released into the wild.

Most animals aren't so lucky.

Two years ago, some men brought in a baby badger, not knowing what had happened to the mother. The badger seemed healthy at first, but several days later got sick and died, she said. It's impossible to know if the badger was sick to begin with or caught something once it was removed from the wild, she said. But animals have a better chance surviving in the wild.

"That's what they do -- they live in the wild," she said. "Leave them alone. They are better off without your help."

The animals that do survive still often have a sad fate, said Mark Zornes, wildlife management coordinator in Green River.

Mothers rarely abandon their young, he said. But when the babies are taken out of the area, finding the mother can be almost impossible.

"Unfortunately that means, if 1/8the baby 3/8 survives, if it'seven old enough to survive, it gets to live in a cage the rest of its life," he said.

Animals, like antelope, are sent to the Sybille Wildlife Researchand Conservation and Education Unit. Animals learn how to survive in the wild from the mothers. If an animal is raised in captivity, it doesn't usually work to re-release them into the wild once they are grown.

"There's nothing cuter than a day-old antelope fawn, but you gotta leave it alone," Zornes said.

There is a myth that once a human has touched a baby animal, the mother will not return. Zornes said that is not true. The bond between mother and baby in most animals is too great to be that easily destroyed, he said. And most birds don't have a sense of smell. So if you see a bird that's fallen from a nest, put it back, he said, or better yet, let it find its own way back.

"They've been doing this a long time, without our help," Zornes said. "As hard-hearted as it sounds, it's always best to leave them where you found them."

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