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For their best chance of survival, leave baby animals in the wild

It is normal for does to leave fawns hidden in tall grass while they go for food.
nearandfar/Getty Images/iStockphoto
It is normal for does to leave fawns hidden in tall grass while they go for food.

As tempting as it is to try and save a young, wild animal if it appears abandoned or distressed, it is likely just fine according to wildlife experts. And, reaching out to help could actually require the animal be euthanized or live out its life in captivity.

It is natural for humans to want to want to help a newborn animal in the wild when it appears to be abandoned or distressed.

But, as Yellowstone Public Radio’s Orlinda Worthington reports, wildlife care for their young much differently than humans, and reaching out to help could actually put them in harm.

It’s tempting for most of us to want to rescue a fawn under a bush or a baby bird on the ground, but…

“Leave them in the wild and call an expert if you're concerned.”

That’s Ali Pons, the Wildlife Center Program Coordinator for Montana Wild, a Fish, Wildlife and Parks rehabilitation center in Helena. She says it’s normal for a doe to hide their fawn and walk away, especially when she’s out feeding. The parent animal sees humans as a threat and may not return at all if you hang around, so, walk away.

“ I would say three to four hours at a minimum. Then you can return and check if that animal is still there, or if it looks in distress, like you have open mouth breathing, or it's not responding at all to a presence that would be concerning,” Pons said.

Pons says they commonly see fledgling birds brought into the center because someone finds them on the ground. But that’s not always a bad thing.

“Many bird species actually learn to fly from the ground up, which I think a lot of people don't realize. And taking little test jumps on the ground below where the nest site actually is. And even though they're on the ground, the parents will continue to care for them,” Pons said.

It takes very little time for a young bird or animal to imprint on a human, especially if it’s fed. Once young animals are picked up by people they usually cannot be rehabilitated.

“Then what we have is an animal who doesn't recognize itself as the species that it is. It doesn't recognize humans as predators, it may not recognize other predators and it's likelihood of being able to survive in the wild has been greatly reduced,” Pons said.

In Billings, I’m Orlinda Worthington.

Another concern is the potential for zoonotics, the spread of diseases from animals to humans. Rabies and Avian influenza are the most concerning. There is also the risk of spreading disease from one animal population to another area.

If you take an animal to a Fish, Wildlife and Parks office you'll be asked to take it back to the site where it was found if possible. The best thing to do if you have concerns about an animal is to call your local FWP office or animal control officer.

Orlinda Worthington hosts “Morning Edition” weekdays on YPR. She brings 20 years of experience as Montana television news anchor, producer, and reporter.