Now that we are entering the heart of spring, it is a good time to remind everyone about the wild creatures they may encounter as they head to woods. The ODNR Division of Wildlife has some strong advice for well-meaning people who seek to rescue wild animals that appear to be orphaned: Leave them alone!
Every year, wildlife officers, biologists and licensed rehabilitators attempt to educate local residents about the hazards of handling wild animals. Despite their cute and sometimes helpless appearance, wild animals are capable of biting, scratching and transmitting diseases to humans and domestic animals.
Many people believe that they are doing the right thing by rescuing a young wild animal and think that hand raising is a good alternative to being raised in the wild. This could not be further from the truth as a hand-raised wild animal, even under expert care, has little chance of long-term survival once released to the wild.
State and federal laws protect and regulate all wildlife species in Ohio and only individuals who obtain a special permit from the Division of Wildlife may possess a native wild animal. Because of the difficulties in providing the proper care and diet for wild animals, only specially trained and licensed wildlife rehabilitators are authorized to take them in from the wild when they are found to be truly orphaned or injured.
Each year, wildlife officers issue summons to individuals who have taken wildlife, particularly fawns, out of the wild, even if their intent was to help the animal. When a wildlife official receives a call regarding a fawn, the first thing they do is advise the person to take the animal back to where they found it.
A doe will protect her young from predators by leaving it alone for long periods of time. The fawn may be hidden in a hay field, a grassy meadow, the edge of a homeowner’s lawn, or even in a flowerbed. Regardless of where she left the fawn, the doe will stay away until after dark then return to nurse it. If the doe is nowhere in sight, some people mistakenly believe the fawn is abandoned and try to help it by taking it out of the wild.
Wild animals have a better chance of survival if left alone in the wild. Studies have shown that more than half of the fawns that are brought in by well-meaning people do not survive rehabilitation and most of the remaining animals die shortly after reentry to the wild. Additionally, handling stresses the animal, and excessive handling can make the animal defensive or can ultimately contribute to its death.
A common belief is that once young wildlife has been touched or handled by humans the mother will no longer have anything to do with it. This is not so, while wildlife officials discourage people from handling wild animals, there are rare occasions when it may be necessary. If a nestling bird has fallen out of a tree, or your child has plucked a young rabbit from its nest, pick it up and put it back in the nest immediately. Do not attempt to hand raise it.
Wild animals can carry parasites or diseases harmful to humans and pets, including distemper, roundworms and rabies. The risk of disease is another good reason to leave wildlife in the wild.
Along with the warning to leave young and injured wildlife alone, the Division of Wildlife offers the following advice:
Think before you act. Check for nests before cutting down trees or clearing brush. It is best to cut trees and clear brush in the autumn when nesting season is over.
Use common sense. If you disturb a nest, replace the animals and the nest material to the original location or as close as possible. If you find a fawn, leave it where you find it. The doe has likely hidden it there and will be returning to feed it, usually after dark.
Keep pets under control so they do not raid nests and injure wild animals. Keep pets vaccinated against parasites and diseases.
Educate children to respect wildlife and their habitat. Emphasize to your children not to catch, handle, or harass wild animals. Practice what you preach!
Contact your local wildlife officer or wildlife district office before taking action. Trust and follow the advice of these trained professionals.
• For those who enjoy finding morels for their table, it appears that they have hit their peak in the area. Many moral hunters have reported finding lots of mushrooms this past week. The most recent warm rains seemed to make them pop out of the ground. I enjoyed a plate of fried mushrooms this past weekend and thoroughly enjoyed them.
• Fishing season has reached its peak for the spring. Many of the area bass and bluegills are bedding and can be easy to catch. This weekend’s full moon and the warm temperatures have triggered the reproduction cycle. The crappies are still biting and the walleye fishing on Lake Erie continues to be strong. Just this past weekend I found a pod of giant female walleyes feeding hard to put back on the lost weight from spawning and we put three Fish Ohio qualifying walleye in the boat and several others that were close. Now is a great time to put some fish in the freezer.
• Turkey season is winding down and numbers are showing it is going to be another dismal year. At last check, the state was showing an overall total harvest running about 2.500 less than last year and last year was not a good year. We need to keep our fingers crossed for a good hatch this spring.
Until next time, Good Hunting and Good Fishing!
Ken Parrott is an Agricultural Science teacher with Northmor High School.