JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – How would Bambi’s life have turned out if, after his mother’s death, a sympathetic human had taken him in? The ending probably wouldn’t be as happy as you might expect.
Orphaned deer and other animals appear cute, cuddly and in need of rescuing. But in reality, human help is the last thing they need. The Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) answers many calls about how to help these wildlife during the spring months. In most cases, the best way to help nature is by leaving it where it belongs.
Why “helping” can hurt
The compassionate human reaction is to want to help wildlife. However, abandoned wildlife are typically harmed by human efforts to rescue them. In fact, trying to help these animals generally decreases their chances of survival. Handling or moving these animals causes them a great deal of stress, and raising young animals for later release deprives them of necessary survival skills they should have learned in the wild.
Leaving an animal without human help does not guarantee its death. Wildlife have their own methods of survival. For example, newly born fawns are scentless, which protects them from predators. This allows a doe to leave her fawn to find food and other necessities. In cases like this, wildlife that appear abandoned are actually not orphaned at all.
How to help
“As a general rule, you should leave animals where they are, put them back where you found them or, if necessary, move them a short distance out of harm’s way,” said MDC Wildlife Programs Supervisor Shawn Gruber.
According to Runge Nature Center Manager Kathy Cavender, people often bring injured or baby wildlife, such as birds, rabbits, squirrels and opossums, to nature centers for help. Cavender said the problem is not a lack of compassion but a lack of understanding of natural ecosystems.
“People often are taking young animals out of the wild when they’re perfectly fine where they are. A lot of what we do is try to get them to understand the bigger picture,” she said.
Cavender also noted that some wildlife myths have to be debunked, such as the common idea that the scent left by human touch will keep a baby animal’s parents away if it is returned to the wild.
“A parent animal’s instincts to care for its young are much stronger than any fear of lingering human scent,” Cavender said.
One way people can assist local wildlife is by not introducing non-native predators, such as free-ranging dogs and domestic cats, to the landscape and by keeping pets confined, especially during the spring.