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This is the time of year when reports of “lost” or “abandoned” wildlife start to pour in to Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife game wardens, local animal control agencies and other animal rescue facilities. People see a diminutive fawn, moose calf, bear cub or other cute animal or bird along the road or in a field and instantly assume that the critter is sick, wounded, abandoned or at least in dire need of being rescued.
In most cases none of these are correct. The fact is that young wild animals spend most of their time lying around waiting for their next meal, and while the female may not be in sight, she is not far away and doing what animal mothers have done for eons – without our help, by the way!
It’s ironic that the majority of “saved” wildlife ends up dying at the hands of their saviors. Few people realize or are equipped to handle the needs of a wild animal, and after a few days of trying to feed the thing grass and milk the animal succumbs or the people get tired of having to give it constant attention and abandon it themselves, this time far from the mother and with scant chance of survival.
The rule of thumb among wildlife agencies nationwide is “leave them alone.” Few wild babies are abandoned by their mothers, and in most cases they will be led away to safety in the next day or two. If you happen to stumble upon a wild child, observe and photograph them if you must, but the best policy is to simply back away quietly and find something else to do. Wild animals know what they are doing and don’t necessarily operate on our time schedule or level of immediacy. They aren’t in a hurry to get things done, let’s say, and the best thing we can do is butt out of their business, especially when it comes to caring for their young.
There are, of course, instances when a wild animal is obviously in distress, injured or in need of rescue. In these cases, the best resort is to call a game warden or animal control officer and let them assess and handle the situation. Don’t think that because you called the animal is going to survive. Most animals that are struck by vehicles, for example, suffer serious internal injuries and will not survive. Certainly a broken leg can be mended if the animal is found in time and proper care is given, but that decision is best left up to a professional.
Whatever you do, avoid touching or moving injured wildlife no matter how innocent or tame they may appear. No wild animal is 100-percent safe (or comfortable) around humans on first contact. Their struggles to escape could exacerbate their condition, cause more damage or create new problems and issues to contend with. If, from the available evidence (blood, torn skin, etc.) you can tell with certainty that the animal is injured, call an animal control agent. Do not take steps to rescue the animal yourself and do not attempt any first aid measure unless you are trained in that field. Normally, our best intentions mean disaster for a wild animal, injured or not.
Another area of human interference that is often disastrous for wild animals is the “I just saw a moose” report that a) brings people from miles around to gawk and b) makes the animal so nervous it starts running through town in a panic. At this point we have an over-stressed animal in unfamiliar territory trying to avoid the curious and annoying humans, and all too often the scenario ends badly. In too many cases a peacefully grazing deer, moose or bear will be spotted, chased wildly around the neighborhood (even through busy city streets) and finally ends up pinned against a wall or fence with nowhere to go. In worst-case situations the animal is shot by law officers, or darted with tranquilizers that may kill the critter due to stress.
The best thing to do when you see a wild animal in your neighborhood is just pull over and watch it! Don’t approach it, start screaming about it, try to catch it or get all your buddies together to chase it down the street. Keep a discrete distance between you and the animal and just enjoy the encounter. In most cases the animal will wander back into the woods on its own, no drama or danger to contend with, and you’ll have a great story to tell at dinner.
In most cases, wild animals do not like or want to be around humans. They are usually attracted to human habitation by food, other animals or are simply dispersing from their familial territory and are looking for a place of their own. It’s not our job or responsibility to interfere with them and we need to remember that our best-intentioned efforts often result in the death or injury of the animal.
They don’t need us, they don’t deserve to suffer at our hands and there is no reason for us to interfere.
State wildlife agencies circulate “leave them alone” bulletins every year at this time and every year thousands of animals and birds die because well-meaning humans decided they knew better. This year, err on the side of prudence and leave the wild things where you find them. I bump into all sorts of “lost” critters every day in my woodland travels and rarely do I find them there the next day, or dead, or eaten by bears. There certainly will be some loss to predators, injury and other travails of nature, but the majority of wild animals do not need our help or attention in order to survive. Treat wild things like you would a priceless heirloom or expensive collectible: observe, enjoy and enthuse but do not touch!
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