Gayle Nastasi, animal consultant and author
This year’s wildlife season brings many challenges to wildlife rescue centers and rehabilitators. The COVID-19 situation, with social distancing and limited gatherings, has meant that many wildlife centers have lost a key source of their donation income. At New York Wildlife Rescue, the organization I work with, the educational programs have had to be put on hold, and that means that a large percentage of their donations have dried up. There are many other wild animal rescue organizations, and individual rehabbers, in the same situation.
In addition to the inability to hold public events, there are more than the usual number of rescue animals coming in to the centers. This is very likely because people are home. Rather than going in to the office each day, homeowners are doing yard work, gardening, taking care of home projects and construction jobs that they now have time to do. This means that they’re outside more, and encountering wildlife in larger numbers than usual.
Many of the wild animals, babies in particular, that people are bringing to the rehabbers and rescue centers were never really in need at all. Wild mothers don’t stay close to their babies all day long. Many species leave them for long stretches at a time. This is to protect them from predators. Baby animals have little scent, while adult animals are easy for wild hunters to locate. By staying away from their babies unless it’s time to feed, the mothers keep them safe.
Wild deer only return to their fawns to nurse them, and will stay apart from them for long stretches. When you find a baby fawn laying in the bushes, or naughtily wandering about your garden, its mother is never far off … just far enough to fool the coyotes. It’s perfectly normal for a fawn to be left alone. If you interfere and “rescue” this baby, you are causing harm to both the mother and the fawn. The mother will return to find her offspring gone. The baby, in the hands of even the most skilled rehabilitator, will never be able to learn the survival skills that her biological parent could teach her.
Rabbits are another species that is often abducted. A wild rabbit only returns to the nest twice a day to nurse. A key prey species, wild rabbits know that their youngsters are much safer hiding in the nest. If you find a nest of wild rabbits, leave them alone! Keep the dog or cat indoors or behind a safe barrier, and just be patient. It only takes a few weeks before those tiny babies will be old enough to leave the nest and be out on their own … and out of your hair.
You can help wild animals much more naturally, and successfully, by avoiding them. Pay attention when you garden or mow so that you don’t disturb nests or hidden young. If you’re doing construction or cleaning and find an active bird’s nest, leave it alone and wait to do your chores. It only takes an average of three or so weeks for baby birds to leave the nest. A little patience on your part will mean that you can soon get your job done, and those babies will have the very best chance of survival. Not only is it unethical to disturb a bird’s nest, it’s against the law.(1)
It is also illegal for the general public to abduct and try to raise wildlife on their own. In a situation where an animal is truly an orphan or in significant danger (mother seen to be hit by car, animal found with obvious injuries, etc), only a licensed wildlife rehabilitator is legally allowed to care for them. You can find your local wildlife rehabbers on the web, by calling your local vets or sheriff’s office, or by contacting your state’s equivalent of the Department of Environmental Conservation.
In addition to paying attention, and respecting your wild neighbors, you can also be a significant help to those wild beings who are truly in need by donating to your local wildlife center or rehabilitator. Some centers welcome volunteers to help with physical chores. Some have critical needs lists of items you can donate. All accept cash donations, as well.
If you would like to help out New York Wildlife Rescue Center, please click the link to visit their website. There is a PayPal donation button to click, or you can send a check to the address on the Support Us page.
 The Migratory Bird Treaty Act, a federal US law