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With wildlife babies, your 'help' could mean harm

Johnson City Press • Jun 8, 2018 at 8:00 AM

Some years ago a young fawn was spotted in the grass under a trampoline. After a few quick photos, the homeowners returned to the house to see if momma deer would show up. That action was the right thing to do. But unfortunately too many people think any young animal they come across is abandoned, and make the mistake of disturbing it.

In the scenario above, momma soon arrived and led the fawn to safety and was able to do so because of the action — or inaction, as the case may be — of the homeowner. Wildlife experts warn that you usually do more harm than good in attempting to help young animals you come across and it's best to just walk away.

It's hard to resist coming to the aid of what we see as helpless creatures. If it's an animal clearly facing a threat, such as one caught or trapped or facing danger, then by all means do what you can to help. But when a wild baby animal seems abandoned or helpless, most often your "rescuing" of it merely takes it away from its parents.

This time of year, the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency receives an increase in calls about distressed animals. And most often it is about an abandoned animal. But wild animals "know what they’re doing when it comes to raising offspring,” says Kirk Miles, TWRA wildlife program manager. “Many people believe young wildlife to be abandoned when they’ve simply been concealed by their mothers. If an animal isn’t obviously sick or injured, please leave it alone. This concealment strategy in the animal kingdom works. The mother will tend to her offspring when the area is safe.”

Concerns about abandonment typically center around birds out of nests, young rabbits exposed, squirrels fallen from trees and whitetail fawns found abandoned. The TWRA says in most cases, humans should just leave the animal, as the presence of people can deter wildlife from tending to their young.

People come across fawns in flowerbeds or tree lines and believe they’re abandoned. The TWRA says that on the contrary, whitetails leave fawns hidden and only approach them to allow feeding. If you come across a fawn and it is spooked and runs, don’t follow it. The TWRA added that does behaving oddly in a backyard are sometimes aggravated when humans or pets are close to their hidden fawns, so never approach an adult deer and keep pets away.

Young rabbits are intentionally left in a shallow scraped nest and are covered with vegetation. The TWRA says people often accidentally expose young rabbits when doing yard work. If this happens to you, simply cover the young rabbits back up and leave them alone. And should they run from the nest, leave them. If they can bolt, they’re old enough to be on their own.

Do place any fallen young bird back in the nest if possible. TWRA says it is a myth that human scent will deter parent birds; otherwise, best back away from wildlife. If you're unsure, call an animal shelter for advice.

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