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What to Do (and Not Do) to Help Local Wildlife

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Even if you live in an urban environment, encounters with wildlife are not uncommon. People—animal lovers in particular—who come across what looks like an abandoned or hurt wild animal are often compelled to pick the animal up and care for him. However, that’s usually not the right thing to do.

In all situations with wildlife, it’s important to not only be aware of the dangers that wild animals can pose to your pets, but the dangers that your pets can pose to them. Here’s what you need to know to keep everyone safe.

Orphaned wild animals

While it may not be your first instinct, you should leave the animal alone. When you see a baby animal by herself, you may want to immediately pick the animal up and bring her home, however that is not the right move. In fact, the animal may not be abandoned at all.

To be sure, watch the animal from a distance. Many species are left alone for long periods at a young age, so observe the animal for 24 hours. That way you can see if the animal is actually abandoned or if the mother is just out foraging for food.

As with any set of rules, there are exceptions. Here are some tips on how to act when dealing with a specific species:

Bird: It is best to locate the nest, pick the bird up with gloved hands, and place him back in the nest. If you cannot locate the nest, create one by putting leaves, grass, or a soft cloth into a small box and placing it in a tree or bush near where you found the bird. Observe for 24 hours to see if the bird is being cared for.

Duckling/gosling: Using gloved hands, place the bird as close to the flock as you can. If the flock accepts the duckling/gosling, everything should be fine.

Deer fawn: Fawns are often left alone while the parents forage, but if the baby deer looks cold, hungry, diseased, confused, or threatened, call a wildlife rehabilitator.

Rabbit: If the baby rabbit is at least 4-5 inches long, has fur, open eyes, and is hopping around, leave her alone—she is old enough to be out of the nest. If the nest looks like it has been dug up and there are surviving rabbits, it is best to place them back in the hole with gloved hands, cover them with nesting materials (which should include grass and fur), and observe for 24-48 hours. If a parent does not return after 24 hours and you are sure that the animal has been abandoned, the best course of action is to alert professionals who know how to deal with such situations.

NOTE: Some cities may not have a municipally run animal care and control center. If this is the case, private exterminators can help—but be careful. Some of them “remove” the animal and kill him, making no attempt at rehabilitation.

Injured wild animals

Use caution: An injured wild animal will often be scared and may be aggressive when approached. Potential dangers include being bit, scratched, or picking up a disease. You may also cause the animal to injure himself further by causing more stress.

Use common sense: If you do not feel comfortable with the situation, call a wildlife rehabilitator immediately and observe the injured animal until help arrives. If it is safe to do so, use gloved hands to pick up the animal and contain him.

If the animal is snared, trapped, or tangled, do not try and free the animal yourself, even though it may be very upsetting to watch. The animal is probably stressed and could be aggressive. Call a wildlife rehab center to report the animal’s location and take pictures of the scene if possible. If the animal is calm enough to be contained, follow the instructions below.

If the animal is hurt and/or needs to be transported to a wildlife rehabilitation center, follow these instructions to safely contain him:

  1. Line a box with ventilation holes or a pet carrier with clean soft cloth, grasses, and other suitable bedding materials (shredded newspaper works well).
  2. Using gloved hands, place the animal in the container.
  3. Place the container on a heating pad set to its lowest setting, or wrap a bottle of hot water in a towel and place it in the container for warmth.
  4. Secure the container so the animal cannot jump out, which may cause further injury.
  5. Keep the container in a quiet, dark place. Do not feed or offer water to the animal.

Face-to-face encounters

Our dogs and cats often spot birds, squirrels, mice, rabbits, and other wildlife when they’re outside. Here are some tips on what to do if you encounter a wild animal when you’re out with your pet:

Coyote/wolf: Use a loud and authoritative voice to frighten the animal. Throw rocks near (not at) the animal and become as big as possible. This will show your dominance and intimidate them so they hopefully leave the area.

Snake: Remain calm and still. Keep your pet close to your side. Step backwards slowly, and only turn your back when you are more than six feet away.

Bear: Control your pet, quieting barking and aggressive movements. To avoid looking like prey, do not run. Make yourself look big by waving your arms and making noises. The bear should quickly leave the area.

Opossum: Generally docile, an opossum will not attack unless it is provoked or cornered. Keep your pet on a short leash and get out of the area as quickly as possible.

Deer: They rarely pose a threat unless they feel threatened themselves. Keep your pet close to you and walk swiftly past the deer. They should move along. If they make aggressive movements or sounds, turn away and leave the area.

Confrontations

Incidents between pets and wildlife can happen quickly. Staying off your phone and remaining present in your surroundings is necessary for safety. In the event of an encounter between your pet and a wild animal where your pet is bit or scratched, follow these steps:

  1. Use gloves and warm (not hot) water to wash your pet’s wounds. Never touch wounds with bare hands to avoid a potential encounter with saliva or blood from a potentially rabid animal.
  2. Call your pet’s veterinarian immediately, even if the wound does not seem serious. If your pet’s vaccinations are expired, he may need to be held for observation. Animals cannot be treated after they have been infected with rabies, so it is very important to stay up to date on all vaccines.
  3. Call an animal control officer to remove the wild animal if she is still present.

LOCAL RESOURCES

Chicago Bird Collision Monitors
BirdMonitors.net, 773.988.1867

If you have found an injured or baby bird, call the CBCM hotline to determine next steps.

Flint Creek Wildlife Rehabilitation: Chicago & Barrington
FlintCreekWildlife.org, 847.842.8000

Injured birds, reptiles, and injured small mammals (excluding skunks, bats, and raccoons) are accepted at the Chicago location with an appointment.

Willowbrook Wildlife Center: Glen Ellyn
DuPageForest.org/willowbrook-wildlife-center, 630.942.6200

Treats injured, ill, and orphaned wildlife native to DuPage County, including eastern chipmunks, eastern cottontails, mink, muskrats, opossums, gray and fox squirrels, woodchucks, small rodents, raccoons, coyotes, foxes, weasels, songbirds, birds of prey, waterfowl, migratory birds, turtles, snakes, frogs, salamanders, and toads.

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