Don’t be a baby-animal-napper.
Carol Kelly, executive-director of the Medicine River Wildlife Centre, urges Central Albertans to call for advice before ‘rescuing’ a tiny bird, rabbit kit, or fawn that appears abandoned by its parents.
Chances are good it’s not an orphan, added Kelly, who noted 40 per cent of cases that are acted on do not involve orphans.
“We tell people, ‘Don’t be a kidnapper! Don’t pick up babies unless you call us first.’”
Kelly is distributing posters with this message after three well-meaning area residents brought in baby bunnies thinking they were helping the animals. It only created more work for centre staff or volunteers who had to return the kits to where they were found, hopefully reuniting them with their families.
Kelly said rabbits typically leave their offspring alone only four hours after giving birth. Mothers return at dusk, to allow their babies to nurse, then take off again at dawn. Meanwhile, the kits instinctively know to hide and sit still so predators don’t notice them.
Sometimes the young prey animals, which can easily be picked up by humans, will get eaten by hawks, crows, owls or coyotes. But that’s nature, said Kelly.
Since Red Deer’s white-tailed jack rabbits produce four litters of young bunnies between April and August, the city would be overrun if every kit survived. “It would not be good.”
Mother deer also leave fawns alone in daylight hours. Since the young deer emit no scent and are well camouflaged, predators have difficulty spotting them, said Kelly. “If the mum stayed with the baby she would be attracting predators to it.”
Central Albertans who worry about the condition of a wild creature are encouraged to take a photo of it with their iPhones and text it to the centre rather than moving the animal.
She noted a federal law exists against disturbing migratory species. Yet, every spring, baby birds are brought in by concerned residents who see them on the ground unable to fly. But Kelly said robins, chipping sparrows, blue jays, crows and magpies produce youngsters that need to practise flight after leaving the nest.
“People find them hopping around and think they must be injured, but it’s actually a fledgling.”
Centre workers usually take these non-orphaned animals back to the natural or urban environments where they were picked up. Kelly said the centre’s thermal imager can locate animal families in the dark through body heat.
“The animals are returned to their mothers.”