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Call experts to help save baby animals
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Good intentioned Mississippians try to rescue hundreds of baby birds and animals they find each year, but wildlife experts caution that often these tiny animals do not need help.
The first thing to remember when finding a baby animal or bird is that it is against state law to keep the animal, even just to save its life. Contact the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks, the Mississippi State University College of Veterinary Medicine or a local, licensed wildlife rehabilitator to rescue the animal.
Bronson Strickland, an Extension wildlife specialist in MSU's College of Forest Resources, said not only is it illegal to possess any kind of wildlife, even a lizard, snake, baby rabbit or racoon, but it's generally not a good idea.
“These animals won't make the ideal pet and can carry diseases,” Strickland said.
Fawns are often mistaken for orphans when their mothers are actually nearby feeding.
“A doe will have one or two fawns and bed them down while she goes out foraging during the day,” Strickland said. “She may be gone half an hour or so, and will come back to nurse the fawn, but those who happen across the baby may think it is abandoned.”
Strickland said other times someone in the woods or meadow will spook a mother deer but never see her run off. Later when they come across the baby, they think it is abandoned. Hunters have been blamed for making orphans of babies, but Strickland said that rarely happens.
“Hunting season in Mississippi doesn't start until most of the fawns are capable of living on their own,” he said. “Unless you know for a fact that the mother is dead, do not pick them up or take them away.”
He said wildlife rehabilitators can successfully raise the fawns, but fawns released into the wild have a very high death rate, with 80 percent to 95 percent not surviving.
“Even though you're well-intentioned, you may kill the fawns with love if you take them away,” Strickland said. “If you aren't sure if the mother is alive, check back in a few hours. If the fawn has not moved, call appropriate authorities to report the orphaned animal.”
Maggie Horner is the animal health technician who oversees the Wildlife Support Group, the in-house wildlife rehabilitation unit in MSU's veterinary college. Dr. Thomas Lenarduzzi heads this department in Starkville which helps sick, injured, or abandoned birds and mammals.
“We don't accept bats or snakes, and we only take in baby carnivores that are of nursing age, because if they can eat on their own, they are too dangerous,” Horner said. “We try to rehabilitate the animals we take in.”
Horner said baby songbirds and mammals such as rabbits, possums and foxes are brought in during the spring, while fawns start arriving in late June or early July. In the winter, the group sees a lot of owls. Many of the owls and other raptors such as hawks that are brought in are injured, and veterinary students are able to get experience working with different species while the animal is getting the life-saving help it needs.
“While much of the success for each animal depends on the extent of their injuries, the longer we do wildlife rescues, the better our success rate gets,” Horner said. “We try not to keep the animals long-term, so after surgery and injury recovery, we turn them over to another facility for long-term rehabilitation.”
Horner encouraged everyone who finds what appears to be an abandoned mammal to try to reunite it with its mother before assuming it is an orphan. She urged those who find a baby bird fallen out of the nest to return it to the nest, as this is the bird's best chance of survival.
“Their mothering instinct overtakes what little bit of smell the babies may have on them,” Horner said.
MSU's Wildlife Support Group can be reached at (662) 325-3432. The Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks can be reached at (601) 432-2400.