Leave Wildlife Alone

February 20, 2009 by  

By Doug Leier

When people see wildlife they think is abandoned, and interfere with Mother Nature, they actually do more harm than good.

When people see wildlife they think is abandoned, and interfere with Mother Nature, they actually do more harm than good.

The local game warden’s phone rings a lot this time of year.

Game wardens are essentially tasked with enforcing outdoor recreation laws across the state. This includes everything from boat and water safety patrol during high traffic times on lakes and rivers, monitoring mid-winter predator hunters.

What you don’t see or hear about nearly as often are the calls wardens take that may seem trivial in nature, compared to say, poachers shooting elk or illegally trapping fish. Game wardens in their local communities, from Bowman to Wyndmere and Cavalier to Williston, field many calls each year that don’t have anything to do with illegal hunting or fishing activity.

Rather, the questions relate to an injured or possibly orphaned duck, deer, raccoon or whatever someone happens to discover.

Warden Jason Scott, Fargo, has some good advice to those who wonder what they should do. ”When people see wildlife they think is abandoned, and interfere with Mother Nature, they actually do more harm than good,” Scott said. “There are rules and regulations that protect wildlife; one of them is that it is illegal to possess these animals.”

Scott says people often don’t understand how personal efforts intended to help wildlife are actually detrimental.

First and foremost, people should not pick up wild animals. Yes it’s illegal, but there is also a human safety element. Animals can and do carry different diseases, have ticks, or can bite or scratch.

A common scenario involves young deer. “When you find a young deer alone, the does are not with the fawn for a reason,” Scott says. “Fawns are well camouflaged, and have the instinct to lie very still to avoid detection.”

The doe visits the fawn to feed and moves off to avoid leading predators to her young, Scott said. “People see a fawn with no other deer around and think it is abandoned,” Scott added. “They think they need to save the helpless deer fawn and pick it up and take it home. In most cases, what they have just done is fawn-napped it away from its mother.”

A nest that appears abandoned may not be the case.

A nest that appears abandoned may not be the case.

If you think an animal is injured, again, don’t pick it up. And don’t be surprised when a zoo, veterinarian or wildlife officer you call recommends that you leave the animal where it is. Injured or orphaned animals have no desire for captivity. They are scared of humans.

Even if an animal can’t move, it has a better chance of survival if it is left alone. Many times injured animals die while being captured or while in transit.

Another situation warden Scott addresses is when birds leave their nests. “I receive many calls regarding baby birds falling out of nests,” he said. “When baby birds fledge, they are learning to fly and do spend time on the ground. Depending on the species, the mother, father, or both will continue to feed the fledgling on the ground.”

The adult birds are not always in sight when people are around, Scott says, and the fledgling appears defenseless.

Not all calls about injured or abandoned animals come in to the Game and Fish Department. Concerned citizens also look to zoos or veterinarians to take in animals.

Zoos and vets, however, cannot and will not take an animal from the wild without authorization. In addition, the cost associated with saving one animal is generally not justifiable unless it is a rare species. Few zoos need white-tailed deer, for instance.

Finally, the fact is that animals in the wild live and die. They starve. They get eaten by other animals. They get run over. They fly into things.

I love wildlife just as much as the next person, and I understand it’s not easy to step back from the urge to help a struggling animal and let nature take its course. But almost always, that’s the best course of action.


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