Column: Don’t save the babies

Published 3:09 pm Wednesday, June 1, 2005

By Staff
It's that time of year again, when tiny spotted fawns follow hesitantly behind their mothers, cute little raccoons explore this big new world with utmost curiosity and baby birds awkwardly flex their wings in hopes of flying someday. It's also the time of year that conservation officers dread. Their phones ring incessantly with callers saying, "I brought home an abandoned fawn, when can you come and get it? I have a baby raccoon, what should I feed it? My son brought home a baby bird that fell out of the nest, what should I do?"
Humans have a thing for baby animals. Most folks are doing what they think is right, to try and save a poor, abandoned, helpless creature. Others are capitalizing on the opportunity to snatch a baby animal and bring it home as a pet. Regardless of the motive, it is illegal to remove any animal from the wild or possess any live wild animal. It's as simple as that, no exceptions for featherless baby birds, heart wrenching bleating fawns, starving little raccoons or abandoned baby rabbits. If you're caught with a wild animal you'll probably get slapped with a hefty fine and the animal will be confiscated.
That may seem like a cold, ruthless, uncaring way to do business but in reality it's most likely there was no problem until you picked up the animal and brought it home. That fawn lying in the tall grass is right where it's supposed to be. Mom's around somewhere but she's not so stupid as to hang out with junior, drawing the attention of every predator around. Junior may get impatient for a snack and bleat complainingly but mom will provide when she feels it's safe.
The same holds for rabbits. You discover a nest of baby rabbits with no sign of mom. You suspect something happened to her. Perhaps you even wait a day or two to see if she returns to her vigil at the nest. Eventually you bring them home. Rabbits don't sit on their nest like a bird. Mom only comes to the nest to feed the young'uns. She'll almost invisibly ghost in, peel back the grassy cover of the nest, do her thing, replace the cover and quietly sneak off.
We've all come across a baby bird hopping around in the yard, not yet able to fly. We assume it fell from the nest and is doomed. It did fall from the nest, perhaps overconfident of its flying ability, but it is not necessarily doomed. Many times I have watched mom and dad continue to care for their ground bound kid. Young birds mature very fast and within a matter of days they are able to seek sanctuary in bushes and low trees. Within a few more days they are confidently flying.
Of course, things aren't always peachy. Newly hatched chicks are pushed from the nest by their siblings and moms do succumb to cars, predators and disease. Babies are left to die. That's nature's way, survival of the fittest for the good of the species. Stupid or unhealthy mothers aren't supposed to raise babies for they may have stupid or unhealthy genes, too. Babies that can't hold their own against siblings, wander away from mother or foolishly betray their hideout are unfit for the gene pool and must be eliminated. Ma Nature is a heartless wench but she knows best.
Bringing an animal home all but guarantees its death. Even if you could successfully raise it, which is very unlikely, then what? It's humanized and can't be released. If you are absolutely positive the baby is abandoned, as in mom laying dead along the roadside or babies clinging to a dead mother, leave them be and call the local DNR office or conservation officer. Understand, though, their resources are very limited. Common things like song birds, rabbits and raccoons will most likely be left to Ma Nature's judgement. If she deems the creature fit to survive it will. If not, she will summon the predators to do their job. They have to eat, too, you know. Carpe diem.