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As with baby birds, baby mammals often appear to be orphaned when in fact they are not. Many species of mammals will leave their babies safely hidden while they are out foraging for food nearby. As with baby birds, the first thing to do when you suspect a baby mammal is orphaned is to patiently and unobtrusively observe it in an effort to determine if it truly needs help.
If the baby has its eyes open, is fully furred, and is walking around, then it probably has just become temporarily separated from its mother while she is out looking for food. Sometimes the mother may have been chased away by some threat, but she will come back, retrieve her baby and carry it to safety.
- If the baby is not completely furred or is too young to walk with good balance, put it in an open box with soft, non-stringy bedding that has been warmed in a dryer.
- Place the box at the base of a tree in the vicinity of where it was found.
- Keep cats, dogs, and children out of the area, and watch from a distance for several hours before intervening.
Sometimes the mother won’t come looking for her baby until her milk glands feel full or until it is dark. For diurnal (active during the day) species such as squirrels, you may have to bring the baby inside for the night and try again the next day. For nocturnal (active at night) species, the opposite may be true, and you will have to bring the baby inside during the day. If you do have to keep the baby inside, please read the information about providing temporary housing. Your local wildlife rehabilitator can recommend the best approach.
Remember that the parents will not reject their babies just because you have touched them. They may, however, abandon the babies if you remain too close or keep them away too long. So whatever you do, do it quickly.
If the baby is obviously injured, is cold to the touch, or is lethargic, then it probably needs a wildlife rehabilitator. If this is the case, place the baby in a cardboard box with a hot water bottle wrapped in a soft towel. Place the box in a quiet, dark place away from children and pets and call a wildlife rehabilitator. Do not hold the baby or attempt to feed it. Baby mammals have very specific dietary needs and often are very difficult to feed. You can do more harm than good by trying to feed it. Warmth and quiet are much more important.
Baby deer are susceptible to well intentioned but misguided “rescues” by people. Fawns are cute and look vulnerable when they are found alone in the woods but they are in fact quite safe if left alone.
Deer have developed biological and physiological mechanisms that improve their ability to survive in the wild. The mother deer will routinely hide her defenseless babies in brush or tall grass while she moves away to forage for food. This behavior reduces the chance that her activities will attract a predator to her baby. She will return to the fawn only a few times during the day to nurse it. Fawns can remain totally motionless for extended periods of time, and essentially give off no odor at this stage of their development. A predator can walk right by such hidden fawns without detecting their presence.
If you come across a fawn, do not touch it unless it is obviously injured or if you know that the mother is dead. The mother will almost always be nearby watching you, although you may not see her. Call a wildlife rehabilitator for advice before taking any action. You may be asked to go back and check on the fawn after several hours. If it is still in the same spot, it may need to be helped. Fawns that have been “rescued” can be successfully reunited with their mother up to eight hours after they have been removed. The mother will remain in the area looking for her baby during that time.
Only as a last resort should fawns be brought into a rehabilitation center. Bottle-fed babies are susceptible to imprinting or to becoming too tame to be released, and require specialized conditions to be raised successfully.
Cottontail and brush rabbits make their nests in shallow depressions in the grass. The nest is lined with fur and loosely covered with grass. Rabbits have evolved to have a stomach capacity larger than other mammals, and so are able to hold a great deal of milk. As a result, the mothers only visit the nest twice a day (early morning and dusk) to feed the babies, thus reducing the chances of attracting predators to the nest. Baby rabbits are often found when people disturb the nests while mowing the grass. If this happens to you, do the following:
- Make sure that the babies are not injured.
- Place the babies back into the nest and cover it loosely with grass.
- To be sure that the mother has come back to the nest, place several strands of string or yarn over the nest. If the string has not been moved by morning, then the mother has probably not returned and you should call a wildlife rehabilitator.
Often people find infant rabbits that appear to be too small to be on their own. The rule-of-thumb is that if the rabbits are over five-inches long or larger, then they are old enough to be on their own and should be released where they were found.
Baby rabbits should be picked up only as a last resort, such as when you know that the parents are dead or injured. Young rabbits are difficult to rehabilitate and more often than not, do not survive the stress of being handled.
Absolutely do not attempt to take care of baby rabbits yourself! They require special conditions, diets, and antibiotics that only a trained rehabilitator can provide.
People who find baby animals often think that the animal needs help and they usually want to take them to a wildlife rehabilitation center. Most of these babies are under the watchful eyes of their parents and often should be left alone. It is important to realize that a baby animal’s best chance for survival is to be raised by its natural parents.
Only the parents can teach their offspring everything they need to know about food selection, predator avoidance, and socialization. Wildlife rehabilitators can only approximate these conditions at best. It is therefore imperative that you make every effort to reunite the parents with their wayward children before considering removing the orphan from the wild.
The clinic is open for admitting an injured or orphaned animal every day of the year from 9am to 7pm.