Sometimes it’s best to leave them alone

Be cautious around animals that look abandoned

Wildlife rehabilitation expert Brenda Miller was given these 2-day-old kestrels after the tree holding their nest was cut down. Miller said the four birds each required three skinned and chopped mice every four hours from dawn until dusk. They all survived and were released, although their chances of survival were slim without a parent kestrel to teach how to survive and hunt in the wild.

People may think picking up young wildlife such as these foxes is the best thing to do. But even the best wildlife rehabilitation experts can’t replicate the lessons an animal’s parents teach about finding food, water and avoiding predators.

The day-to-day existence of a wild animal rarely is the easy careening through life often portrayed on TV or in movies.

Predators, weather, disease, big trucks and little cars all take their toll on wildlife.

There’s something else – people whose only wish is to do good sometimes do the worst.

“The most important message I tell the public is leave wildlife alone,” said Brenda Miller of Roubideau Rim Wildlife Rescue. “If you come upon something, back off and watch from a distance. Control your dogs and contain the kids. Get out the binoculars.”

Picking up (don’t call it “rescuing”) what appears to be an abandoned deer or pronghorn fawn or elk calf, baby foxes, raccoons or baby birds is akin to signing a death warrant for that animal.

“Often more harm is done when people try to go out and save something instead of just leaving it alone,” said Miller, who runs her licensed rehabilitation center out of her family ranch on the Uncompahgre Plateau. “Some things we can save but unfortunately, the majority of adopted wildlife, even if its raised by the best of rehabilitation centers, has very little chance of survival.”

Hikers, bikers and other back-country travelers occasionally find young animals that appear to be abandoned because no adult animal is nearby.

But deer and elk often leave their young while the adults feed or rest elsewhere. Unlike adult animals, newborn deer, elk and pronghorn are virtually scent-free and difficult for predators to find.

Walking up to a fawn or calf, even if you don’t touch it, leaves a scent trail that predators can follow.

“The best thing to do with fawns or calves or even pronghorn fawn is to leave them alone,” reiterated Trina Romero, watchable wildlife coordinator for the Northwest Region of Colorado Parks and Wildlife. “If they are laying down with their eyes open, they are just hiding from predators.”

Romero said if you’re truly concerned about the young animal being abandoned, go away and come back in 12 to 24 hours to see if the mother returns.

“Ninety percent of the public really cares about wildlife and they mean well, they just don’t think it through,” Miller said.

It’s a bit different with birds, said Romero, disputing the tales of adult birds abandoning babies after being touched by humans.

“If a baby bird falls out of the nest, the best thing you can do is try to put it back in,” she said. “They will be taken care of just fine. We frequently have good success returning baby birds to the parents.”

In her 17 years of wildlife work, Miller has worked closely with local veterinarians and Colorado Parks and Wildlife in efforts to educate the public about handling wildlife.

“I love what I do as a rehabber, teaching and working with the public,” she said. “Most of the time, I enjoy working with all the CPW personnel.”

“Wildlife has taught me that nothing wants to be confined in a cage, held, x-rayed or poked at,” she said. ” All wildlife wants is to live and die in freedom.”


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