(UNDATED) - Every spring, kind-hearted Hoosiers "rescue" an injured or seemingly abandoned baby wild animal and try to care for it.
The DNR Division of Fish & Wildlife has one thing to say: Don't do it.
In early April, cottontail rabbits and squirrels have young in their nests. If you come across a nest, leave it alone, even if you don't see an adult animal around. The best place for these animals is in the wild, learning to fend for themselves.
"Most baby animals are not abandoned," said Michelle Cain, DNR wildlife information specialist. "Many animals leave their young alone when searching for food and come back to them throughout the day. They also use this as a way to deter predators because a predator may follow the mother back to its young."
Picking up a baby animal that is not orphaned or abandoned can harm the animal and takes it out of its natural environment. It's also illegal.
If you believe the animal is truly abandoned, or you know that the mother is dead, call a licensed wildlife rehabilitator. Licensed wildlife rehabilitators are educated to properly care for wild animals. In the hands of an untrained person, an animal is unlikely to survive if it is returned to the wild.
Wild animals also pose safety and health risks for humans. They may look helpless, cute and cuddly, but they can bite or scratch people who attempt to handle them. Some wild animals carry parasites and infectious diseases that can be transmitted to humans.
The best way to make sure an animal is orphaned is to wait and check it periodically. If you are unsure, place some strings or sticks across the nest. Place some grass across the top of a rabbit nest that is found with young in it. If such items are later disturbed, the mother has probably returned, so leave the young animal alone.
If a bird has fallen out of a nest, it is OK to gently return it to the nest.
Rehabilitator contact information is at dnr.IN.gov/dnr/fishwild/5492.htm. Click on "wildlife rehabilitator" near the bottom of the page for a list. Assistance can also be found by:
-Calling the DNR Division of Fish & Wildlife in Indianapolis at (317) 232-4080
-Calling DNR Law Enforcement, 24 hours a day at (812) 837-9536
-Calling a licensed veterinarian
State laws prohibit keeping wild animals without a DNR-issued permit. Federal laws also prohibit possession of migratory birds, including songbirds, raptors and waterfowl. It is illegal to treat wild animals for sickness or injury without a permit.
In the spring, ducks or geese often nest in landscaping or gardens. Leave the nest alone and keep any pets away. Be aware that the bird may return next year. If the bird becomes a nuisance, call a nuisance waterfowl control operator. A contact list is at dnr.IN.gov/fishwild/files/fw-NuisanceWaterfowlControlOperators.pdf.
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