One of the most difficult challenges for anyone explaining the do’s and don’ts of dealing with wildlife to young children is convincing them, that, for the sake of the animals, they should be left undisturbed when found in the wild and that feeding is harmful for all concerned.
Every June, the end of the school year brings days with free time that allow for teachers and students to interact on topics of mutual interest. When the topic deals with summertime outdoors plans, such as a camping or fishing trip, often students relate stories about having found a “lost” fawn, poult, gosling or other type of wild animal when on a previous trip.
Others relate accounts of feeding “hungry” wildlife, which occasionally dealt with feeding such delicacies as dry breakfast cereal to deer, but most often were those of feeding hot dog and hamburger rolls to waterfowl. As difficult as it may be to explain such thought-to-be acts of kindness are wrong, it is important it is done.
According to the new book “Rescuing Wildlife: A Guide to Helping Injured and Orphaned Animals” by licensed wildlife rehabilitator Peggy Hentz of Red Creek Wildlife Center, Schuylkill Haven, unless a bird or mammal is obviously injured, it should not be disturbed. That is especially true with young animals that are often left on their own for periods of time while their mother is off feeding.
“Choices you make will have an impact on that animal’s life and possibly your own,” Hentz writes. “Having knowledge about the risks to the animal as well as to you, your family and your pets, along with the right advice from the beginning, can mean the difference between a heartwarming, educational experience and disaster.”
In “Rescuing Wildlife,” Hentz has written a pocket reference guide that assists readers in determining if an animal is truly in need of help and walks them through safe capture techniques and transportation. Safety is stressed throughout each step as the reader learns how to properly handle and package an animal and how to locate a wildlife rehabilitator.
Wildlife rehabilitators licensed by the Pennsylvania Game Commission are the only ones who are permitted to care for injured or orphaned wildlife for the purposes of eventual release back into the wild. If an injured animal is found, it is permissible to transport it directly to a licensed rehabilitator by a private individual.
Unnecessary, and at times, illegal, feeding of wildlife – especially waterfowl – can be an even greater concern, as it can lead to overbreeding, crossbreeding and the spread of disease to domestic animals and humans. At almost any community that has a lake or pond, people can be found feeding bread, crackers and other food to ducks and geese – often ignoring posted signs reading “Do Not Feed Waterfowl.”
Most often, adults are accompanying the children and encouraging them to feed the waterfowl. Authorities are usually reluctant to enforce ordinances against this activity, and offenders seem to be oblivious to the obvious evidence of their actions in the form of hybrid waterfowl and excess droppings.
According to PGC Bureau of Wildlife Management director Cal DuBrock, adult animals often leave their young when they forage for food and often use a natural defensive tactic called the “hider strategy.” This is when young animals remain motionless and blend in with surrounding cover while adults draw the attention of potential predators or other intruders away from their young.
“Being outdoors is an enjoyable way to spend time and learn more about nature,” DuBrock said. “In the coming months, it will become common to find young deer, rabbits, birds, raccoons or other wildlife, some of which may appear to be abandoned.
“Rest assured that in most cases, the young animal is not an orphan or abandoned and the best thing you can do is to leave it alone. While it may appear as if the adults are abandoning their young, in reality, this is just the animal using its natural instincts to protect its young.
“Nature also protects young animals with camouflaging color to avoid being detected by predators, and wild animals are not meant to be pets, and we all must resist our well-meaning and well-intentioned urge to want to care for wildlife. Taking wildlife from its natural settings and into your home may expose or transmit wildlife diseases to people or domestic animals.”
Another danger is that wildlife may carry parasites – such as fleas, ticks and lice – that can infest people and domestic animals. Each year, people ignore this advice by taking wildlife into their homes and then are urged to undergo treatment for possible exposure to various wildlife-borne diseases, such as rabies.
PGC Bureau of Wildlife Protection director Rich Palmer said the agency also is concerned with wildlife implications from humans handling wildlife. In addition, he said it is illegal to take or possess wildlife from the wild, and under state law the penalty for such a violation is a fine of up to $1,500 per animal.
For information about Red Creek Wildlife Center, access the website at https://redcreekwildlifecenter.com. To order “Rescuing Wildlife: A Guide to Helping Injured and Orphaned Animals,” access the website at http://rescuingwildlife.com.