For Release June 3, 2003

Please Leave Wild Babies Alone

by Chuck Otte, Geary County Extension Agent

For most wildlife, spring is the time for babies. Birds are laying eggs and hatching them. Mammals are busy giving birth. I had the privilege of watching a momma woodchuck (groundhog) over the weekend with five half grown youngsters. Toad and frog tadpoles are busy eating mosquito larvae. Lizards and snakes are doing whatever it is that lizards and snakes do! Watching young wildlife is truly a special opportunity.

However, when the human and wildlife paths cross, especially when it comes to young wildlife, there seems to be an eternal problem of misunderstanding. Thanks to Walt Disney, or cartoons or storybooks or something, we have a couple of generations of humans that attempt to relate to wildlife on human terms and standards. This is a big mistake.

Wild animals are not human beings. They relate to the world around them, and to their own young, far differently than humans. In the natural world there is not good and bad, there are not rewards and punishments. There are actions and consequences. In nature there is predator and prey. That is the way it has always been and is the way it will always be. Nature is constantly in the process of eliminating the old, the sick and the unfit. We call that cruel and mean. Those are human terms that describe the actions of humans who have a conscience and have the choice of making decisions. We should not be applying those same terms to wildlife who act on instinct and thousands of years of survival.

Many species of wildlife have a very strong instinct to protect their young. The old stories about not getting between a mother animal and its young are very real and very wise advice. Other species lay eggs, go on with their lives and forget about their offspring. As humans, we would never consider leaving a baby alone for even a minute. That is what our instinct tells us and what society has taught us is correct. Many species leave their young alone for hours at a time while the parents go searching for food. That is what they have to do to survive and what generations of their own kind have done and survived by doing.

Here's where the human - wildlife interface happens and where terrible misunderstandings occur. Humans happen upon an animal baby. Since there is no adult present the humans assume that it has been abandoned. Then the human nuturing instinct kicks in and the human is overwhelmed with the need to take the baby home and care for it. What ever it takes, resist that overwhelming urge. Humans are not fit to be wildlife parents. Even the best wildlife rehabilitators will tell you that it is a difficult job to raise a young animal, have it survive and be able to release it back to the wild.

As an adult you have the even harder task of explaining this to children as well. Tell them that there is a difference between humans and wildlife. Tell them that what they have seen in cartoons is not the way it really is. Many young birds leave the nest at two to three weeks of age and just barely able to fly. We think they have fallen out of the nest, but they may be on the first steps of independence. Yes, the young bird may die. Over half of the songbirds hatched every year fail to make it to year two. That's just the way it is.

We consider it a cold cruel world out there. Based on our human emotions is seems like it. But it is all the wildlife have ever known. So do the wildlife a favor. If you find, what you believe is an abandoned wildlife baby, resist the urge to take it home and just walk away. You'll be doing yourself a favor and you'll be doing the natural world a favor!


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