TILLAMOOK, ORE. – The recent experiences of an elk Tillamook County residents nick-named “Lucky” are a case study in what can go wrong when young animals are removed from the wild.
Taken from his natural habitat as a calf in 2006, Lucky went from being small and manageable to large and troublesome as a yearling bull this year. “Lucky was seemingly harmless as an elk calf,” says Herman Biederbeck, district wildlife biologist. “But he became a public nuisance when he matured, growing in size and strength. He has challenged neighbors, entered houses and jumped into the back of a pick-up truck. An animal this size can be dangerous to people and pets, especially in the early fall when elk enter the breeding period or rut.”
ODFW staff relocated Lucky to a more remote part of Tillamook County, but he found his way to a house and went inside. Lucky had to be relocated again on July 18, this time to a very remote part of the Cascades. Biederbeck is not optimistic that “Lucky” will survive for long in the wild.
According to Biederbeck, human taming of Lucky has drastically reduced his chances of survival. The elk has very limited survival instincts such as finding food, escaping from predators, or interacting with other elk.
Unfortunately, other young animals are placed in similar situations each year when well-intentioned people “rescue” young wildlife from the wild. People mistake animals temporarily away from their parents as orphans, but it is natural for wild mothers to temporarily leave their young. People trying to care for these animals are generally unable to provide an appropriate diet and environment for the young animal, which can lead to malnourishment and death. Most native wildlife species are difficult or impossible to place in zoos or other educational institutions, so that is not an option.
According to ODFW statistics on this issue, which come from the reports of licensed wildlife rehabilitators, of 168 young animals that were known to be removed from the wild in 2006, 31 died while in captivity. The fate of others after release is unknown. These figures represent only situations where rehabilitators (who are licensed and have special training) get involved. ODFW believes the problem is far greater than these numbers indicate, due to unreported removals from the wild.
Not only is removing young animals harmful to wildlife; it is also a crime. In 2006, OSP cited nine people statewide for this offense, which is considered a Class A misdemeanor, punishable by up to one year in jail and a $6,250 fine.
"It's illegal and it's not fair to the animal. So just don't pick young wildlife up. It's always better to leave the animal in place," says Sergeant Brent Seaholm, Oregon State Police. "Only when we are absolutely certain that the mother has been killed and know that it is orphaned, will ODFW or OSP pick up the animal and take it to a rehabber. It is illegal for anyone to pick up these animals. Call ODFW or OSP if you encounter young wildlife you suspect or know has been orphaned."
For more information on what to do when encountering young wildlife, visit http://www.dfw.state.or.us/resources/viewing/