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Orphaned Wildlife Not What It Seems

Game and Fish asks public to leave babies alone; let nature take its course.

Young wildlife can be encountered throughout the spring and the Arizona Game and Fish Department reminds the public that wildlife, like humans, will take steps to protect their young.

For wildlife, leaving young behind is generally a protective slight-of-hand trick by animals as a response to a potential threat. These animals have not been abandoned and should not be whisked away by well-intentioned individuals.

Such an action can have dire consequences for wildlife and your wallet.

“The intentions are good, but the results are most often a death sentence,” said Erin Butler, game specialist with the Game and Fish Kingman office. “The first instinct is to lend a helping hand, but people have to fight that urge.”

In addition to the negative impacts to the animals, individuals removing wildlife are subject to citation and potential civil assessment for the loss of wildlife to the State of Arizona.

If wildlife are brought to the Game and Fish office at an age where they can’t survive, they are humanely euthanized.

Butler explained that young wildlife is rarely abandoned. When a perceived threat — such as a human in close proximity — disappears, the parents will return and continue to care for the young, while removal dramatically diminishes their odds for survival.

For instance, Butler said young quail will follow their mothers soon after hatching, but if the mother is frightened, she will fly away or try to distract the perceived predator by acting injured. When the threat is gone, the mother returns.

“It’s also important to remember that quail are a ground-based bird,” Butler said. “They do not fall from nests.”

Quail, however, are just one example. All wildlife should be left alone. Removal of pronghorn fawns is a liability and baby rabbits, often thought to be in distress when seen alone, will most certainly die if removed from the wild.

Avian parents will continue to care for a hatchling that has fallen from a nest. However, if the bird is in immediate danger, it is okay to place them back in the nest or in a nearby tree. Contrary to popular belief, human scent will not concern the parents.

“It’s nice to have people so concerned about the welfare of wildlife,” Butler said. “We just ask that people do what is best for the animals, and the best thing is to leave them alone.

There are other methods to help: Watch your pets and your vehicle speed. Pet dogs and cats negatively impact wildlife, especially in the spring when young are born and vulnerable, while vehicles remain the top killer of wildlife in the nation.

“Young animals have plenty to worry about in the wild,” Butler said. “Toss in domestic animals and the problem is compounded. Some of the young received at the office are the result of an attack by a pet.”

As for human intervention, it’s simply best to let nature run its course.

If you have questions about a situation you may contact your local Game and Fish office.


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