When rescuing isn’t necessary

As I walked in the door of the wildlife hospital building this morning I overheard Mike Pratt, our director of Wildlife Services, say, “They’re like puppies right now, scampering and playing outside the den.” Ah yes, I thought, another phone call about baby raccoons. Welcome to summer at the wildlife shelter.

From May to July, our most common phone calls are about baby wild animals. People find baby crows, raccoons, coyotes, robins, bunnies, deer fawns, etc., and call us because they want to bring us the “orphaned” babies they’ve found.

More often than not, our response is something like “put the baby back” or “leave the baby alone,” because most of the time the babies don’t need help.

I understand why it happens. People see baby animals alone outside, and they want to help. And gosh darn, those babies are cute! I think some people literally can’t stop themselves from trying to “save” baby wild animals. We humans are genetically programmed to want to care for baby humans. I believe some of this programming transfers over to wild animals.

Imagine looking out your window and seeing four human babies frolicking in your yard. The sun is shining. Birds are singing. And there are four naked babies rolling around in the grass in front of your house. You look right; you look left. You don’t see any adults around.

Do you head out there to save those kids? Heck yeah! You’d be out the door in a flash. You’d grab those kids up and whisk them into your house.

Eventually, once the adrenaline wore off, you’d realize you now have four babies making a smelly mess on your floor and you’d set to work trying to find their parents. And when you found those parents, they would thank you.

The problem is that wild animals are different. When you see wild animal babies out in the wild, they’re not lost. Your front yard is actually part of where they live. And even though you can’t see their parents, they are there or they are out foraging and will be back shortly.

We struggle every year to keep kidnapped babies out of our facility. Imagine the horror of a mother animal who comes back and finds her babies gone.  Last year, a litter of three baby raccoons were brought to us that were likely kidnapped.

The next day, we took them back to the yard they were taken from. As we entered the yard, the raccoon mom burst out of some nearby bushes (she could hear the babies in the box).

We immediately dropped the box as she ran towards us. She reached in, put one baby under her left arm and one in her mouth and starting three-stepping as quickly as she could toward the bushes. She got there, dropped the two, and ran back for the third one.

Last we saw, she was continuing this leapfrogging transport as quickly as she could to get her babies away from us crazy humans.

Baby birds are often found on the ground at this time of year. They are “branchers,” not orphans. Many bird species have a period in their growth when they can’t fly, but they can hop and run.

They hop out on branches and eventually hop (or fall) to the ground. Don’t worry! They’re OK. Their parents are watching them, will bring them food, and will show them how to forage off the ground.

I do need to add a disclaimer: Sometimes the babies really are orphaned and do need our help. So please, if you find baby animals, just leave them alone and monitor them.

If they seem sick or malnourished, or if you don’t see a parent tend to them for many hours, please give us a call at 855-9057, ext. 1.

At this time of year, baby raccoons really are like puppies. They wrestle, growl, scamper, and enjoy being alive.

Often, like puppies, they get tired and fall asleep in a big pile of cute furriness. They’re not injured. They don’t need your help. They’re just sleeping.

So when you see them, take a deep breath, step away from the babies, and maybe do some jumping jacks to work through the adrenaline your programming just released into your bloodstream.

Then grab a chair, and enjoy the show once they wake up.

Kol Medina is executive director of the West Sound Wildlife Shelter.

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