For Release May 23, 2000

Leave It Alone!

by Chuck Otte, Geary County Extension Agent

The human race seems to be composed of individuals that are instinctively nurturing. Well, there was that class bully in first grade that I have my doubts about, but for the most part, we are all inclined to take care of and nurture living things. This probably explains why so many people have a strong desire to have gardens, work in their yards or just have house plants. It probably also explains why so many people feel that they must pick up a baby bird and care for it or catch the baby rabbit in the back yard and try to raise it.

The rest of the natural world is not that like that. Notice, I said the rest of the natural world because we can not separate ourselves from it, we are part of it. The normal order, in the natural world, is survival. It isnít good, it isnít bad, itís just the way it is. Many people hate to hear me say it, but for most creatures it comes down to survival of the fittest. That may mean the biggest, the strongest, the fastest, the smartest, or sometimes just the luckiest. In the natural world there are neither rewards or punishments, only consequences.

Nature is neither kind, nor cruel. These are human words, human emotions, human traits. The hardest thing for most people to do, is to walk by a baby bird that has fallen out of its nest, and do NOTHING. Iíve been called cruel for doing that. Thatís a human characteristic and it is not appropriate for us to judge the rest of the natural world on our standard.

My wife had found a chickadee nest in the windbreak at her parents house last week. It was in a cavity in a dead tree. A few days later she took me to see it. We arrived just as the snake was withdrawing from the cavity. The misfortune for those baby birds, was life for another few days for the snake. Did either have more of a right to live? We were both disappointed at not getting to watch the chickadee parents feed the young, but it was a pretty awesome snake that we got to observe though.

The truth of the matter is, that the odds are against much of the young wildlife. Most biologists estimate that over one half of this yearís young will not make it until a year from now. That is why reproduction rates of some species is so high. It also explains why some species are in such dire straits when their native habitats are severely disturbed and they donít have a high reproduction rate.

This is the time of year that many species are busy having babies. Since many species of wildlife have learned to coexist with humans, we end up having humans encountering immature wildlife. Whenever this happens, the nurturing instinct takes over and everyone becomes a wildlife rehabilitator. This is where I step in and shatter everyoneís illusions. You may be the best parent in the state, but you are a terrible wildlife parent!

If you encounter what seems to be a baby animal, leave it alone. Just because mom or dad arenít there with it, does not mean itís orphaned. If it appears to have just fallen out of a nest, then go ahead and place it back in the nest. If it keeps falling out, then it may not be wanted by its parents or it may not be smart enough to know how to stay in the nest. These are not the kind of genes the species needs to keep in the gene pool.

Itís also a violation of many laws to try to raise wild animals. The reasons are too numerous to go into right here, but the laws do exist. Injured or orphaned animals are also more likely to bite or scratch in defense. This is a good way to be hurt or contract a disease. The bottom line is, if you find what appears to be an orphaned critter, leave it alone. And if your children find orphaned wildlife, teach them to leave it alone also. But please donít call me and ask me to explain it to them!


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