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Editor's Note: Don't rescue someone who's not in trouble

Published: Tuesday, May 20, 2014 10:06 a.m. CDT

When I was little, I remember catching toads with my brother. We were about 4 or 5 at the time, and thought they were frogs. But they were dry and dusty, and frogs were supposed to be wet and slimy, so we “rescued” them by putting them in deep bowls of water.

Luckily, my mom came upon us in the course of our rescue and kept us from drowning the poor things.

Children are very much aware of their dependence on adults, and they love the chance to play the hero to something smaller and weaker than themselves. When it comes to rescuing animals, some of us never outgrow that.

According to Kathy Stelford, president of Oaken Acres Wildlife Center, many of the baby wild animals that are delivered to the center each year by well-intentioned people didn’t need rescuing at all.

That makes the rescue, in effect, a sort of unintentional kidnapping, which ought to make you think.

Unfortunately, we have a tendency to project human characteristics onto the animals we are trying to save, which can land the animals in more trouble than they started with.

Take baby rabbits, for example – or rather, don’t take them. Bunnies are one of the most commonly rescued wild creatures, because people find them all alone and out in the open, and think something awful must have happened to the mother rabbit.

If a human mother left her baby alone for 8 to 12 hours at a time, that would a very, very bad thing for the baby. But baby rabbits do just fine alone all day. Mama Rabbit returns to the nest twice a day – at dawn and dusk – and only for a few minutes at a time, to feed the babies. Baby bunnies also grow up fast – they leave the nest after only two to three weeks.

So if you find a nest of baby bunnies in the middle of your yard (rabbits like to make their nests in the open, so they can spot any predators), leave it alone unless the babies are obviously injured or seem cold and limp. In that case, don’t just gather up the babies and take them inside, unless you’re an experienced wildlife rehabilitator who knows what you’re doing. Instead, call Oaken Acres and get their advice on what to do next.

Baby deer are also left alone for hours at a time. After feeding their fawns, does leave them in a camouflaged spot and go off to find food for themselves. The fawn may appear incredibly vulnerable, but again, unless it is obviously injured or sick, it probably doesn’t need help. Mama is likely nearby and expects her baby to be there when she comes back for the next feeding.

If you find a wild animal that is injured or you believe it needs help, before you try to rescue it yourself, get some advice from an expert. Sometimes animals really do need help, after all. But don’t assume, just because you don’t see Mama, a healthy-looking wild baby has been orphaned or abandoned.

If you find an animal you think needs help, or if you need more information, contact Oaken Acres at 815-895-9666 or visit www.oakenacres.org.

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