Orphaned wildlife not what it seems

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April 23rd, 2009

Game and Fish asks public to leave baby wildlife alone

Although you may be tempted to pick up a baby bird or other young wild animal that appears to have been abandoned by its parents, the Arizona Game and Fish Department reminds people to avoid the temptation. The situation may just be another case of wildlife taking steps to protect their young.

For wildlife, leaving young behind is generally a protective sleight-of-hand trick by animals as a response to a potential threat. These animals have not been abandoned and should not be whisked away by well-intentioned individuals.

Such an action can have dire consequences for wildlife.

“The intentions are good, but the results are most often a death sentence,” said Erin Riddering, game specialist with the Game and Fish Kingman office. “The first instinct is to lend a helping hand, but people have to fight that urge.”

This is the time of year, when Game and Fish offices see an increase in people bringing in animals, such as baby quail and rabbits. If at an age where they can’t survive, these animals are humanely euthanized.

Riddering explained that young wildlife is rarely abandoned. When a perceived threat – such as a human in close proximity – disappears, the parents will return and continue to care for the young. By removing the young, their odds for survival diminish dramatically.

For instance, young quail will follow their mothers soon after hatching, but if the mother is frightened, she will fly away or try to distract the perceived predator by acting injured. When the threat is gone, the mother returns.

“It’s also important to remember that quail are a ground-based bird,” Riddering said. “They do not fall from nests.”

Quail, however, are not the only wildlife to be left alone. Pronghorn antelope fawns should be left in the wild. Removal is a liability. And baby rabbits, often thought to be in distress when seen alone, will most certainly die if removed from the wild.

Avian parents will continue to care for a hatchling that has fallen from a nest. However, if the bird is in immediate danger, it is okay to place them back in the nest or in a nearby tree. Contrary to popular belief, human scent will not concern the parents.

“It’s nice to have people so concerned about the welfare of wildlife,” Riddering said. “We just ask that people do what is best for the animals, and the best thing is to leave them alone.

There are other methods to help: watch your pets and your vehicle speed. Pet dogs and cats negatively impact wildlife, especially in the spring when young are born and hatched, while vehicles remain the top killer of wildlife in the nation.

“Young animals have plenty to worry about in the wild,” Riddering said. “Toss in domestic animals and the problem is compounded. Many of the young received at the office are the result of an attack by a pet.”

As for human intervention, it’s simply best to let nature run its course.

“You wouldn’t want someone picking up your child in the front yard and dropping them off at the police station when you simply stepped into the house for a moment,” Riddering said. “There’s no reason to remove wildlife, either.”

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