CAPE GIRARDEAU, Mo. – Every spring, Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) offices receive many phone calls from well-intentioned wildlife viewers who are caught off guard by young wildlife they presume to be alone or orphaned. There's often an impulse to "protect" the young critter by finding it a "safer" home. But what is a safe home for wildlife? It's certainly not human homes, which are not designed for animals.
Sara Turner, manager of the Cape Girardeau Conservation Nature Center, said the safest place for young wildlife is where you find them. Most likely, she said, they aren't really alone.
"Spring is a popular time to watch wildlife because, like us, they're becoming more active after those cold winter months," Turner said. "This is an important season for many of our wildlife populations as they reproduce and raise their young. We certainly don't want to interfere with that by making choices that impact the health of young wildlife."
Turner said disturbing or removing baby animals from where you find them almost certainly means they will not survive. Although you may not think the animal's mother is present, she is almost always nearby and waiting for a safe time to return to her young.
"These wildlife parents will stay away while you're in the area in an effort to not attract attention to their young," Turner said. "The most helpful thing you can do to keep these animals safe and protect them is to leave them where they are so their parents can return and provide for them."
Turner said even when wild animals are taken to rehabilitation centers, the chances of their future survival in the wild are slight.
"When young wildlife are taken away from their parents, they don't learn survival skills," she said. "So even if they are nursed to good health, it will quickly decline if they are released and unable to find food and shelter on their own."
Turner encourages people to remember that what may seem to be an orphaned animal, very likely is not. The best protection for local wildlife is healthy habitat and space so they can raise their own young, she said.
The Cape Girardeau Conservation Nature Center's upcoming Nature Center at Night program will focus on young wildlife and what to do about them when they're encountered. The program is Thursday, March 12, from 5 to 8 p.m. No registration is required and all ages are welcome to attend.
For more information on this or other nature programs at the Cape Girardeau Conservation Nature Center, call (573) 290-5218 or go online to mdc.mo.gov/capenaturecenter.