MDC urges Missourians to keep wildlife wild

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JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – As the weather warms up and more people head outside, they may encounter a variety of newborn animals. Though young wildlife oftentimes appears to be abandoned, that’s usually not the case. The Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) reminds residents that interfering with wildlife can do more harm than good.

“Young animals are rarely orphaned,” said MDC State Wildlife Veterinarian Sherri Russell. “If the young is left alone, the parent will usually return. Parents are normally out searching for food and cannot constantly attend to their offspring.”

Russell added that baby birds are a common newborn people come across.

“If you see a chick on the ground hopping around and it has feathers, leave it alone and bring pets inside because it is a fledgling and the parents are nearby keeping an eye on it,” she said. “Fledglings can spend up to 10 days hopping on the ground while learning to fly. If you find one that is featherless, you can return it to the nesting area if possible, as it probably fell out of the nest.”

Other common issues include dogs catching baby rabbits and lawn mowers running over nests.

“Rabbits seldom survive in captivity and can actually die of fright from being handled,” Russell cautioned. “Even if the animal is injured, return it to the nest because the mother will most likely return.”

Despite what many believe, wild mothers do not abandon their young because of a human scent, and most newborn animals do not survive in captivity.

“While people have good intentions, the care and rehabilitation of wild animals requires special training, knowledge, facilities -- and permits,” she explained. “Without such care, wild animals will remain in poor health and could eventually die. And it is illegal to possess many wild animals without a valid state or federal permit.”

Russell also noted that wildlife can become dangerous as they mature, and can also carry parasites, disease, and can damage property.

“Native wildlife can carry mites, ticks, lice, fleas, flukes, roundworms, tapeworms, rabies, distemper, tuberculosis, respiratory diseases, and skin diseases,” Russell said. “Some of these can be transmitted to humans.”

Although tempting to take them into homes and care for them, the best help people can offer wild animals is to leave them alone.

For more information on Missouri’s many native wildlife species, visit the MDC online Field Guide at

MDC reminds the public that it is still critical to continue to heed all recommendations for physical distancing, avoiding overcrowding, handwashing, and other public health measures during outdoor activities.