They're cute, but leave them alone

Rabbit nests are often found in yards. Mother rabbits will not abandon their young and young leave the nest when they are very small. (TWRA Photo)

It is that time of year when Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency officers often notice an increase in people "adopting" baby wild animals. They're reminding folks that it is illegal to take baby animals from the wild. The little critters often are cute, and people think they'll make nice pets.

“We’ve seen an increase in these cases and it makes us angry. Our mission is to protect wildlife and laws are in place not only for the protection of humans, but also animals. Someone from the general public doesn’t know about wildlife disease or behavior and they’re causing dangerous situations,” said Joe McSpadden, Hamilton County Wildlife Officer.

Wildlife experts say it's often a bad idea for the people involved because wildlife can transmit diseases or parasites to humans or domestic pets, including bacteria such as salmonella, fungi and other wildlife diseases.

Removal from the wild is almost always a really bad idea for the baby animal as well. In many cases people who happen upon baby rabbits, squirrels or fawns think they have been abandoned. In nearly every case, the parent is likely nearby either foraging for food - or perhaps hiding in fear of you and waiting on you to leave to return to their young. If you find what appears to be an orphaned animal, the best thing you can do is take a picture, and then leave the animal alone. The vast majority of the time, mothers collect their young. Even animals that have apparently fallen from a nest or tree are most often cared for by their mothers.

One animal significantly affected is the, Eastern box turtle.

“Turtles are long-lived, slow to reproduce animals. Removing just one can impact the population of an area. Distressed turtle populations take much longer to recover than other faster breeding animals,” said Chris Simpson, Region III Wildlife Diversity Biologist. Additionally, some wildlife also have breeding site fidelity, meaning they will not reproduce unless they are in the area where they were born or typically reproduce.

If someone finds an obviously sick or injured wild animal they should contact a wildlife rehabilitator or call TWRA. TWRA maintains a list by county of rehabilitators.

In addition, laws forbid the movement of wildlife. A property owner that traps a nuisance animal cannot move the wild animal to another location. This law is in place to keep wildlife disease from spreading to unaffected populations.

“There is absolutely no reason for anyone to have a wild animal in their home,” said wildlife officer McSpadden. “Please help us with our mission and leave wildlife where it belongs.”

Go here to read a real-life story from Outdoor contributor Richard Simms about "The Baby Bird."

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