It’s that time of the year again, when Missourians frequently call us to report that they have “rescued” or found “orphaned” wildlife or injured animals needing help. These may be young rabbits or birds venturing from their nests, a deer fawn without its mother or a snapping turtle that has left its pond and is seen crossing a road. In most cases, the animals don’t need help and would be best served by being left alone. In some cases, such as a box turtle on a road, it can help to move them off the roadway, if that can be done without endangering one’s own safety or that of other motorists.
That young deer fawn may appear to be abandoned, but it is probably being watched by its mother in hopes that the human will leave so that she can return to tend it. That is not to say that all young animals survive to adulthood; some will not survive and will help feed predator species or scavengers that are also trying to survive. All wild animals are part of nature’s food chain, and death is part of the cycle of life. That can be hard to accept when we see a cute young animal that appears to be abandoned.
It is not practical nor even desirable that common wildlife species be captured by humans and raised for later release into the wild. In addition to it being generally illegal to keep native wildlife in captivity, it typically leads to animals that are not fit for life in the natural world. They lack survival skills that should have been taught to them by their parents. They often don’t survive the stresses resulting from captivity. While it may make us feel better, we are not doing wild species any favor by intervening in the natural cycle of birth, reproduction and death.
We can assist wildlife by avoiding the introduction of non-native predators to our local landscape, such as free-ranging dogs and house cats. By keeping pets confined, especially during the spring, we can greatly improve the odds for reproduction by local wildlife, especially ground-nesting species.