It's human nature to want to save an orphaned baby animal hiding in brush or huddled in a meadow, but meddling with wildlife can be the worst thing an animal-lover can do, according to the Pennsylvania Game Commission.
"What we see most often are people who are trying to help wildlife by, quote unquote, 'rescuing animals' they believe are in need of rescue," commission spokesman Travis Lau said. "But the best bet in most cases is to let nature take its course."
Lau said people who find whitetail fawns, baby raccoons or foxes, baby birds or other young wildlife with no parent nearby should simply walk away.
"What often is an attempt to help the animal ends up harming it or habituating it to human activity," he said.
Fear is good: Some animal parents will abandon their offspring if they are handled by humans, which can relegate the young to a life in captivity, according to Lau, because natural fear of humans helps animals survive in the wild.
In most cases, baby animals haven't been abandoned at all, and their mothers likely are foraging nearby for food, according to the Game Commission.
The warning is especially timely now, Lau said.
"The fawning season is upon us. ... Pregnant does are going to begin giving birth," he said. "Soon there will be a number of fawns that people will encounter, maybe even in their back yards."
The nature of things: Whitetails regularly leave their young alone, he said. And instinct tells the baby deer — with its camouflaging spots — to curl up tight and stay put.
"The mother deer will usually not bed right next to the fawn for the first several months of the fawn's life," Lau said. "So people do presume them to be orphans when in reality they're not. Especially during those first few weeks and months of a fawn's life, the risk of (human) imprinting when there's any contact with humans is serious."
Deer attack: A few years ago, a six-point buck attacked and badly injured two people in Pennsylvania, according to the Game Commission. A family began feeding him as a fawn and continued to feed him until the attack occurred, a commission official said.
It can be illegal to possess or "adopt" wild animals, Lau confirmed. Fines can reach $1,500 per animal, according to the commission.
And it's not just mammals whose lives can be permanently disrupted by "helpful" humans — birds face the same risks, Lau said.
For example, young great horned owls that fall or fly from the nest will most likely still be fed and protected by their parents, he confirmed.
Rabies risk: Humans who handle "orphan" baby raccoons, foxes, skunks, bats, coyotes or groundhogs risk contracting rabies and exposing their own pets to the fatal disease, Lau said. That's because those animals are considered high-risk "vector" species for rabies, he said.
State-licensed wildlife rehabilitators are tasked with caring for injured and orphaned wildlife, according to the Game Commission. People who find an injured animal in need of help can find a list of rehabilitators at www.pawr.com.
Those unable to find a wildlife rehabilitator in their area can contact the Game Commission at www.pgc.state.pa.us. Lau said people unsure of what to do can always call the commission.
— Reach Liz Evans Scolforo at email@example.com.