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What To Do If You Find An Injured Or Orphaned Wild Animal

Updated: Jun 6, 2021

We learned at our visit with the NM Wildlife Center that spring is a busy time for animal rescue and rehabilitation organizations. Not only are we spending more time in nature as the weather warms up —meaning we are more likely to encounter animals— but this is the time of year when many animals are having babies, and inevitably some of these babies, or their parents, fall victim to prey. Today we want to talk about what to do if you come across an animal that is injured or a baby animal that has been orphaned or abandoned.

Does the Animal Actually Need Help?

First, it’s important to determine whether an animal that appears to be in distress actually does need help. While there are cases when an animal needs immediate care, in most cases wild animals (especially young ones) should be left alone. An animal may appear to have been abandoned, but in reality its parents are off foraging for food nearby.

Here are a few indicators that an animal is in real danger:

  • It is visibly injured (bleeding, limping, broken limb/wing, puncture wounds from an animal bite)

  • It was brought to you by a cat or dog

  • A bird is featherless or nearly featherless and is on the ground

  • An animal is shivering, crying or wandering around (visibly stressed) for a prolonged period of time

  • The animal is young, and its parent is dead nearby

It’s important to note that babies of some species are left alone all day and rely on camouflage for protection, while others are tightly supervised by their parents. The Humane Society provides a detailed guide on a variety of species that can help you understand what is normal for each species, how to determine if they need help, and how to handle different species if they do need assistance.

Who To Call For Help

If you determine that an animal is in need of care, the first thing you should do (after safely removing the animal from any imminent danger, if possible) is to contact a wildlife rehabilitator in your area. Describe the animal and its physical condition to the wildlife professional. It is not only dangerous to attempt to raise and rehabilitate a wild animal, but it is also illegal.

The following organizations have a list of licensed wildlife rehabilitators by state:

It is important that you call an animal rescue agency before taking any injured animal to their facility — in some instances, they are prohibited by law from taking certain species, or they may not be equipped to handle certain species or types of injuries. If this is the case, ask them for a recommendation of who to call next.

If you can’t find a wildlife rehabilitator in your area to take the animal, try contacting an animal shelter, nature center, animal control agency or a local veterinarian for advice.

Capturing & Transporting Small Animals

It is important to consult with a wildlife expert before handling any animal you suspect of being injured or abandoned. Many organizations require that you transport an animal to them, or you may need to keep it safe while you wait for a professional to pick the animal up.

1. Call a professional to get advice on whether or not the animal should be handled.

2. Keep pets restrained.

3. If instructed to handle the animal, wear gloves — leather if possible — to protect yourself from injury and to prevent getting the human scent on the animal.

4. Have a covered container with air holes ready before you attempt to move the animal. Place a towel on the bottom to give the animal something to grip during transport. A cardboard box works well.

5. Avoid touching the animal. Use a broom or stick to gently slide the animal into the container if possible. If you must touch the animal, never do so with bare hands.

6. Do not give the animal food or water.

7. Place the animal in a warm, dark and quiet area, away from pets and children. Avoid opening the container. This will keep the animal calm until you are able to transport it.

8. Keep talking to a minimum during rescue and transport, as they can become very stressed by our noises.

Finding Help For Large Animals

Report large animals such as deer, bobcats and bears to your state’s Department of Game and Fish.

Thank you for caring about wildlife in need!

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