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Guest column

Wildlife rescues may be misguided

Published June 29, 2005

This is the time of year when the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission begins getting calls about abandoned fawns and other animals that folks believe may be in need of rescue.

However, the rescues could do more harm than good.

After giving birth, adult wildlife must forage to provide food for themselves and their young, leaving their newborns for short periods. Having some basic knowledge of wildlife and the survival skills that animals employ can help avoid misdirected rescue attempts of animals that don't require rescuing.

One of the most common targets of misplaced rescues is baby deer that are temporarily left in a safe place while their mothers feed nearby. Many people who find fawns mistakenly assume they have been abandoned, when in reality its parents are in the process of ensuring the infant's survival.

"In most cases, it is absolutely not in the fawn's best interest to try and rescue it," said Allan Hallman, wildlife biologist at the wildlife commission's Camp Blanding field office.

What typically happens is that someone discovers a young deer waiting for the return of its mother, Hallman said. Often, these discoveries are made in palmetto patches or in recently burned areas that are relatively bare, where a doe has placed her new offspring for protection. Settings like palmetto patches and newly burned areas tend to help depress the fawn's scent, which in turn provides good protection from the keen nose of a predator.

People discover these seemingly abandoned baby deer and become concerned when the parent is nowhere in sight. The would-be rescuers falsely believe the young animal will perish unless they save it or take it to a wildlife rehabilitation center.

Unfortunately, actions of this kind usually have the opposite effect of a rescue. The stress created by changing the animal's diet and surroundings is often fatal. Should the rescued fawn somehow manage to survive the rescue, its return to the wild becomes impossible because of human imprinting or a lack of survival skills. Had it not been removed from the wild, the young deer would have learned the necessary survival skills from its mother.

The wildlife commission recommends that if you find a fawn or other baby animal, don't touch it, and quietly leave the area. Touching the animal may cause the mother to reject it because it is contaminated with human scent.

On the other hand, songbirds have almost no sense of smell and can be returned to their nests without much chance of rejection. Young songbirds are a popular favorite of the would-be animal rescuer. Baby songbirds are commonly found on the ground at this time of year, looking a bit dazed or confused. The young bird may be trying to hide in tall grass or in low bushes to avoid being seen by predators. These young birds are going through a process called fledging.

During fledging, young birds learn to fly and fend for themselves. The immature bird may spend several days on the ground, during which the bird's parents keep an eye on it, feeding it and helping it learn needed survival skills. You can help the bird's parents by keeping any pets that may harm the birds indoors during the flight lessons.

"We encourage people to help these young birds by not interfering in this crucial learning process," Hallman said.

Here are some important facts that can help determine if a baby bird needs rescuing: According to biologists, the only time a baby songbird should be rescued is when it is on the ground and has almost no feathers, when it is injured by pets or when its tail is less than a half-inch long and it cannot hop around on its own.

If you find a baby songbird that you are sure needs rescuing, here are a few tips that will help ensure its survival:

Place the baby bird in a tissue-lined box that has air holes in the top.

Keep the box in a warm spot away from drafts and air conditioning and out of direct sunlight.

Do not give it food or water!

Call a licensed wildlife rehabilitator in your area. Telephone numbers of licensed rehabilitators are available by calling the wildlife commission's north central regional office at (386) 758-0525. Many local veterinarians also work closely with wildlife rehabilitators and can be a good source of advice. The wildlife commission asks you to remember that removing an animal from the wild to save it may actually have the opposite effect. Seek advice from wildlife professionals before attempting to rescue any animal and remember, in most cases, it is better to leave wildlife in the wild.

For information on what you can do to help Florida's wildlife, check out

--Karen Parker is the public information coordinator for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, North Central Region, 3377 S U.S. 90, Lake City. Call 386 758-0525. Visit the Web site

[Last modified June 29, 2005, 01:18:19]

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