Keep Wildlife Wild

by Christine Laporte

When you find a cute furry or feathered wild animal, do you get an urge to take it home as a “pet?”  Before reaching for that charming fawn snuggled in its nest, or a baby bird on the ground, please stop and reconsider. Sometimes interactions with humans can result in negative consequences for the wildlife, including misapprehension, injury or death.

Though our desire to rescue animals is strong, they might not need our help.  Mother deer leave their young alone in a secure location during the day to avoid drawing the attention of potential predators.  Likewise, the young bird is probably in the midst of a flying lesson with parents watching closely nearby.  Appalachian Wildlife Refuge (www.appalachianwild.org) is dedicated to serving wildlife rehabilitation needs in WNC. We also encourage you to educate yourself about natural behaviors of our native wildlife.

If you find an animal that appears orphaned, injured or sick, contact a licensed wildlife rehabilitation (www.ncwildliferehab.org) or the NC Wildlife Resources Commission (www.ncwildlife.org).

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NC laws prohibit keeping native wildlife as pets. There are also federal laws to protect wildlife.  Direct contact with wildlife, e.g. touching, feeding, moving from site where found, is potentially unsafe for both the wildlife and the human.  Injured animals are in a stressed, “fight or flight” physiological state and often sustain further injuries, or cause injury to their human “helpers.”  Even a healthy animal could transmit diseases that can affect humans, including rabies or salmonella. Use caution when approaching any wild animal that appears to be injured, sick or is acting abnormally.  Remove stressors (children and pets) and consult a wildlife professional.

Habituation often leads to conflict with humans and pets.  Feeding or handling causes wild animals to gradually lose their natural wariness of situations that should be avoided for survival. A wild animal with easy access to food from an unnatural source becomes accustomed to returning without fear. It may become aggressive, potentially causing injury or harm to you, pets, or property.

Carlton Burke, of Carolina Mountain Naturalists, is an Appalachian Wild board member, wildlife rehabilitator and wildlife damage control agent for the NC Wildlife Resources Commission. He says: “… wild animals raised in captivity are often unpredictable as adults. When young, they may be very tame and easy to handle, but when they reach maturity, they may become restless, unmanageable, and may even bite without warning. Animals like this cannot be released into the wild since they have no survival skills and can’t be reliably kept as a pet because of this uncertain behavior.” Thus, in trying to help, we may have contributed to it being labeled as a “nuisance,” and altered its ability to care for itself in the wild.

Wildlife instincts and requirements often clash with humans and pets. The needs of wild animals differ dramatically from those of domestic pets. For example, we may think we know what a particular species probably “likes” to eat, but feeding the wrong food to wildlife can cause malnutrition or worse! The damage can be devastating, and possibly fatal.  Bringing a baby groundhog home may be tempting, but its natural behaviors as it matures can lead to potential aggression and damage towards household members and items within the environment. Appalachian Wild co-founder and professional wildlife rehabilitator Savannah Trantham advises, “Wild animals have needs that, though we try very hard, cannot be completely duplicated in captivity. Wildlife professionals undergo extensive training to learn how to provide such care. Having a pet dog or cat requires very different skills from maintaining a squirrel or opossum in captivity.”

The number of calls asking for professional help with wildlife, as well as actual orphaned and injured animals admitted for care, tripled from 2014 to 2015.  To address this urgent need, Appalachian Wild is seeking land near Henderson or Buncombe County to build a regional care facility for small mammals, reptiles and amphibians. This will also serve as a triage site for wildlife like raptors, waterfowl and songbirds that can be transported to specialized facilities to receive expert care. As a networking hub, the organization will respond to wildlife-related questions and provide support to the rehabilitation community in WNC.  Help keep wildlife wild by supporting this “911” center for wildlife (http://www.appalachianwild.org/support.html).

Christine Laporte is a member of the Board of Directors of the Appalachian Wildlife Refuge.

photo credit: Deer @ Guindy National (Childrens) Park, Chennai via photopin (license)

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