With the return spring and warm weather, many RVers are back in the great outdoors, closer to Mother Nature and all she has to offer.
Among those things are newborn animal babies.
It raises a key question: what’s the best way to behave when we come across these little critters?
For episode 137 of the RV podcast, we found out from Sandy Woltman, senior animal care director at Oaken Acres Wildlife Center in Illinois, and former board president of the National Wildlife Rehabilitators Association.
Licensed wildlife rehabilitators are people who have gone through extensive training and take in injured, orphaned, and/or diseased animals with a goal to rehabilitate them and release them back into the wild, whenever possible. They work solely on donations.
She set us straight on how we can best protect both the baby animals and ourselves when our paths cross.
She started by telling us about the animals we are most likely to encounter this time of year.
“This time of year (spring) we already have our cottontails that are breeding, we have our raccoons, squirrels, even opossums,” Woltman said. “People are going to start seeing some coyotes pretty soon. In the next month or so, they’re going to start seeing whitetail deer fawn.”
With an idea of what’s out there, I asked Woltman how to deal with what’s out there – specifically, any recently born animals.
“The best thing to do really is just leave them alone,” Woltman said.
Mothers will typically not simply abandon their babies. If the mother isn’t in the immediate vicinity of the newborn, Woltman said, chances are she is out feeding or foraging for food and could return at any given moment.
If the newborn appears injured, Woltman said, she recommends contacting the local wildlife rehabilitator to find out the best way to intervene, if at all.
“Someone might even come out and assess the situation and take that animal to captivity and see if that animal does need care,” she said.
You’ll notice that her recommendations in dealing with newborns makes no mention of touching the animals.
That’s because Woltman reminds us that we, as humans, are still viewed as predators and need to keep that in mind as they will defend themselves against us.
“We usually recommend not touching the animal because we don’t want that person bitten or scratched,” she said. “It’s best to contact a professional first to see what should be done.”
That being said, we will sometimes encounter animals that might need a bit of a human hand’s help. A baby bird in the middle of a road or sidewalk, for example.
Woltman dispelled the myth that we shouldn’t touch baby birds, or other young mammals.
“People think that they touched a baby bunny or their child touched a baby bunny they can’t put it back in the nest because mom will desert them and that’s just not true,” Woltman said. “Mom’s instinct to raise those babies is very strong.”
It also helps to know a little about how animals behave, too, she said.
Deer fawns, for example, typically are bedded down by a mother during the day. They don’t have the “fight or flight” ability to run away from predators. In short, they often appear to have been orphaned though they have not.
“People see them and think that they’re orphaned and essentially kidnap them then come home and try to figure out what they’re going to do,” Woltman said, adding she recommends against doing so.
Along the same line, bear cubs should also be left alone, especially since we all know how touchy mother bears can be about their offspring. The rule applies even if the bear seems injured.
“The best thing to do is note your location so that you can go get help from a professional…and let that person assess the situation,” Woltman said. “A lot for the safety of yourself and for that bear cub.”
And people should also keep in mind the behavior of raccoons, which seem very cute and cuddly when young but can become quite aggressive when they get older. Like other wildlife, Woltman advises against trying to keep them as pets.
“With raccoons, and all wildlife, it’s best to keep them out the wild with their parents,” Woltman said. “I always tell people to (instead) go down to the shelter and adopt yourself a dog or a cat.”
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