If you’re spending more time than usual walking or hiking these days, you may come across injured, sick or orphaned wildlife in your visits to local parks. Your first instinct might be to try to help, but your efforts could do more harm than good.
The Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (VDGIF) advises that human interaction with wildlife should always be kept to a minimum. In fact, humans often misinterpret normal wildlife behavior and could disturb or stress wild animals in their efforts to catch them.
For example, in springtime concerned people often pick up young animals that they think are orphaned. Unfortunately, the VDGIF reports that more than 75 percent of such orphans “rescued” every spring should have been left alone. Most wild animals are dedicated parents and will not abandon their young, but they do leave them alone for long periods of time while looking for food.
Please heed these warnings from the VDGIF website. Leave a wild animal alone, unless one of these guidelines applies:
First, make sure it really is injured or orphaned. Sometimes a parent is close by but waiting for the human intruder to leave. Other times a dazed or unconscious animal is only temporarily stunned. The kindest thing you can do for these animals is keep them out of the way of predators by placing them in a box or elevated place.
Second, if the animal is hurt and you are able and willing to pick it up, do so with care (this includes heavy gloves), handling it as little as possible and keeping your hands away from its mouth (there is always potential for rabies among wild animals). Place the animal in a well-ventilated cardboard box in a dark, quiet, warm place. Do not feed it. Call a rehabilitation facility and follow their instructions. Do not attempt to rescue skunks or bats. These are high-risk animals that are potentially dangerous to your health. Never attempt to capture an adult sick or injured mammal. They are frightened and/or in pain and see you as a threat and can bite severely.
If a fawn or rabbit has been “rescued” when it shouldn’t have been, it can often be released at the same location — if it is on the same day. Parents tend to remain in the area for at least a day, looking for the lost youngster. Leave him as close as possible to where he was found and withdraw at least 50 yards and observe with binoculars until dusk. If the parent hasn’t picked up the little one by nightfall, you will need to contact a licensed wildlife rehabilitator.
The folks at VDGIF offer helpful information about some of the mammals you may discover in Virginia at these links:
If you find a wild animal anywhere in Virginia that’s truly in need of some human help, you can go online to find a licensed wildlife rehabilitator or call VDGIF’s toll-free wildlife conflict helpline at 1-855-571-9003. It’s open 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday. You can also visit their website at https://www.dgif.virginia.gov/wildlife/injured/.
In Fairfax County, the Fairfax County Animal Protection Police respond to wildlife calls for injured, sick or aggressive animals. Contact the Animal Protection Police through the non-emergency line at 703-691-2131 or learn more about their work by visiting the county’s Injured and Orphaned Wildlife web page.