Unseasonably warm weather may have Michigan's black bears and recently born cubs out roaming earlier than usual. Great-horned owl chicks are already hatched and will be out of the nest before long. Spring is the season for wildlife to give birth. The Department of Natural Resources reminds Michigan residents to resist the instinct to try to help baby animals that may appear to be abandoned because in nearly every case a parent is nearby and the baby animal is not abandoned.
"The truth is, the animal doesn't need help - for example, even if a fawn appears to be abandoned, its mother is almost always nearby," said DNR wildlife ecologist Sherry MacKinnon. "We appreciate the good intentions of those who want to help, but the animals are better off left alone than removed from the wild."
MacKinnon said it's not uncommon for does to leave their young unattended for up to eight hours at a time; an anti-predator strategy that minimizes scent left around the newborn animals. "The same holds true for rabbits, ground-dwelling birds and other wildlife," she said. "Even avian parents will continue to care for hatchlings that have fallen from a nest."
The DNR advises that:
- Many baby animals will die if removed from their natural environment, and some have diseases or parasites that can be passed on to humans or pets.
- Some "rescued" animals that do survive become habituated to people and are unable to revert back to life in the wild. It is illegal to possess a wild deer or any other wild animals in Michigan, and every day a deer spends with humans makes it that much less likely to be able to survive in the wild.
- Eventually, habituated animals pose additional problems as they mature and develop adult animal behaviors. Habituated deer, especially bucks, can become aggressive as they mature, and raccoons are well-known for this, too.
"If you come across a deer or other animal that you are certain has been orphaned early in the year - for example, if a doe is dead nearby - call your local DNR office. They can refer you to a licensed rehabilitator," said MacKinnon. "Licensed rehabilitators are trained to handle wild animals and know how to release them so that they can survive in the wild." Michigan licensed rehabilitators are also listed on the DNR website at www.michigandnr.com/dlr/.