Nature experts: Keep wild animals wild

By: Cari DeLamielleure-Scott | West Bloomfield Beacon | Published May 25, 2016

 Geese and goslings walk outside the center.

Geese and goslings walk outside the center.

Photo provided by the West Bloomfield Parks and Recreation Commission

METRO DETROIT — During the spring and summer months, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and local nature centers receive an increase of calls from people across the state about helping baby animals that appear to be in trouble. 

But despite our instinct to help, experts say it’s important to leave wild animals in the wild.

“The vast majority of the time, these wild animals do not need our help,” Hannah Schauer, an MDNR wildlife education technician, said in a press release. “Wildlife can survive on a day-to-day basis without help from humans.” 

West Bloomfield Parks and Recreation naturalist Lauren Azoury said people tend to think that because a baby animal is by itself for long periods of time, it’s either helpless or injured. 

“That animal … is actually old enough to be off on its own,” she said. “The biggest mistake people make, even though their intentions are good, (is) they will be too quick to pick up the animal and take them to a (rehabilitation or nature) center.” 

Instead, Azoury said, people should watch and wait for at least 24 hours. If the mother doesn’t return, then people should find a licensed rehabilitator. A list of rehabilitators by county is available at www.mi.gov/wildlife. Licensed rehabilitators undergo proper training on how to handle injured or abandoned wild animals. They work to return the animal to the wild where it belongs. The only time a baby animal should be removed from the wild is if a rehabilitator has been contacted first, according to the MDNR. 

“A baby’s best chance for survival is its mother,” Azoury said, explaining that oftentimes the mother is hunting or watching from afar to avoid the attention of predators. Mother rabbits, for example, may not return to a baby until dawn or dusk, Azoury said. 

Fawns are poor runners and their natural instinct is to remain stationary. If the mother is nearby, she draws attention to predators and puts the fawn at risk. Fawns are rarely abandoned, according to the MDNR.

“An adult deer … has plenty of scent to it and — being a large animal — is fairly easy to spot,” Schauer said in the press release. “So rather than hang around and draw attention to where she has carefully hid her fawn, the mother deer opts to graze elsewhere.” 

Taking an animal from the wild is illegal and dangerous, according to the MDNR. Wild animals can have aggressive behaviors and can carry diseases and parasites, which can then be transmitted to pets and humans.

“Obviously, most wild animals are cute, but you do have to be careful. They all have mouths and they can bite,” Azoury said. 

Taking animals from the wild as pets also affects the ecosystem. Box turtles, for example, were popular in the pet trade during the 1970s and 1980s. Now they are one step above being endangered, Azoury said. 

“Once they’re captive, the immunities are different, bacteria in the bodies is different,” she explained. “Everything in the body is changing by having them captive.” 

Before picking a pet, Azoury said, people should research the animal and become familiar with its biology and basic facts. 

The red-eared slider turtle is not native to Michigan, but it has established a population within the state because people took them in as pets and released them into the wild, Azoury said. Non-native snakes are commonly released into the wild too, she added. 

When the snakes are released into the wild, they compete with native snakes for food sources, Azoury explained. 

“In Michigan, for instance, when snakes hibernate, they might hibernate near each other, but once spring comes, they spread out,” Azoury said.

For more informaiton or for a list of rehabilitators, visit www.michigan.gov/dnr.