CO: Give young wildlife the space it needs

GRAND JUNCTION, Colo. – Spring has arrived in Colorado and it
won’t be long before newly born wildlife take their first awkward
steps, sometimes near watchful people. The Colorado Division of
Wildlife is reminding the public that the well-intentioned impulse
to save what appears to be an orphaned or abandoned animal can
often lead to unintended consequences, including the death of the

For many people, a common reaction when they see young wildlife
that appears to be abandoned is to treat it as they would a human
baby and attempt its rescue. Giving human characteristics to
animals is known as anthropomorphism. The concept is often seen in
popular children’s books and movies. Division officials warn that
projecting human behavior onto young wildlife often does more harm
than good.

“A human baby that has been abandoned is a crisis that needs
immediate attention, but this is not the case with baby animals,”
said Watchable Wildlife and Volunteer Coordinator Trina Romero. “In
fact, the instinct that leads a female animal to leave its
offspring alone for long periods of time is a natural method of
protection. The last thing it needs is human intervention.”

Deer are a common example. A fawn that stumbles about weakly
while learning to walk will attract predators, so evolution has
provided effective methods of protection. Newborn fawns are
naturally well camouflaged, don’t emit odors that attract predators
and can lie very still for a long time. As a result, they are
actually safer if their mothers leave them on their own. Even a
curious person watching the fawn from a distance could alert
predators to the animal’s presence and prevent its mother from

But in the rare case that the young animal’s mother has been
hurt or killed there are some steps you can take to protect its
orphaned offspring. If the mother of a young animal does not return
for more than twelve hours, or it is obvious that it has been hurt
or killed, it’s best to report its location to the Division of

“People who pick up animals risk injuring the animal or making
it too comfortable with humans to be returned to the wild,” added
Romero. “By leaving the animal alone and reporting its location to
the Division of Wildlife, our trained personnel or volunteers can
respond and make the determination about what is best for the

Many orphaned animals are taken to licensed wildlife
rehabilitators who work hard to make sure the animal can be
reintroduced to the wild. However, even rehabilitation has risks,
with only a minority of rehabilitated animals being able to return
to a full life in the wild. In some cases, it may be better for
young animals to fend for themselves in their natural habitat.

“Every case is different, so it’s best to let trained wildlife
staff and volunteers respond and make a determination,” Romero
said. “Once a human intervenes, the choices for the animal’s future
become more limited.”

People are cautioned to avoid “rescuing” the animal themselves
or trying to keep it as a pet, which in most cases is illegal. Even
the best efforts to rehabilitate an injured or orphaned animal by
an unqualified person can instead lead to negative consequences,
such as poor nutrition, stress and behavioral problems. Young
animals will often “imprint” on caregivers early in life, normally
their mothers. Even if a person successfully nurses a baby animal,
the young animal may learn to become comfortable around humans,
which makes it necessary for the animal to remain in captivity.
Associating with humans will also prevent the young animal from
learning the skills it needs to survive on its own. A wild animal
held in captivity by an unqualified caretaker can also present a
public safety risk as it can bite or attack its caretaker or

Because dogs will explore off -trail areas and search for smells
and movement, people often encounter baby animals while walking
their dogs. If they are allowed to run loose, dogs can present a
serious danger to all wildlife. Domesticated dogs quickly revert to
their predatory instincts and will often chase and severely injure
or kill young wildlife and their parents. By statute in Colorado,
law enforcement officers are authorized to immediately euthanize
any dog observed harassing wildlife, and dog owners can receive a
hefty fine. Division officials strongly recommend that people keep
their dogs on a leash. It will keep the dog safe, and prevents
injuries or death of wildlife.

Another common sight in spring is young birds that have
accidently fallen out of their nests due to high winds, or while
learning to fly. Most of us have heard the “old-wives’ tale” about
how a mother bird will abandon its young if it has been touched by
a human, however the myth has no scientific basis and every effort
to return the fledgling to its nest is a worthy endeavor if it can
be done safely.

If you find a young bird on the ground and it is unable to fly
on its own, don’t attempt to nourish it. Instead, immediately try
to return it to its nest. A bird’s natural diet is difficult to
duplicate and an attempt to feed it or give it water can cause it

If you cannot safely reach the original nest, just placing it in
a safe location near the nest will yield good results. The parents
will hear its cries and will continue feeding the young bird. Put
it in a small basket or box filled with paper towels or even dryer
lint. Using grass to make a nest is not recommended because the
moisture content in the grass can lower the body temperature of the

Cats, being natural predators, are another serious threat to
young birds and other small animals. Although hunting and killing
is natural behavior for a cat, a responsible owner will limit a
cat’s ability to destroy wild creatures.

“If your cat is used to being outdoors and there is little
chance of it becoming an indoor pet, just place a small bell on its
collar. This may be an effective method of keeping baby birds and
other small animals safe,” advised Romero.

The Division reminds everyone that evolution has given all
animals effective instincts when it comes to rearing their young
and it’s best to just let nature take its course. If you see a
young animal that appears orphaned, keep your distance, don’t feed
and don’t help. In most cases, not doing anything is the most
responsible way humans can show their love for wild creatures.

For more information on living with wildlife and laws concerning
exotic pets, please see:

For more information about Division of Wildlife go to:


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