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The yearling black bear at ODFW’s Wildlife Health Lab near Corvallis.

Leave wildlife in the wild: Recent bear cub, western pond turtle incidents serve as reminders

Update June 19, 2015: The yearling black bear picked up Memorial Day Weekend went to ZooAmerica in Hershey, Pa. on an evening flight last night. The bear gained weight and some of its hair grew back while under the care of veterinarians at ODFW’s Wildlife Health Lab near Corvallis.

“It’s great news that the black bear is able to go to ZooAmerica, but it still should never have been taken from the wild in the first place,” said Colin Gillin, ODFW wildlife veterinarian. “Remember to leave young animals in the wild unless you are absolutely certain the animal is orphaned.”  More information below.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

SALEM, Ore.—A yearling bear cub found east of Sweet Home is seriously underweight and can never go back to the wild. A western pond turtle went blind while being kept as a pet for seven months. Both stories serve as good reminders that wild animals should never be taken from the wild.

The bear was collected by Oregon State Police over Memorial Day weekend after campers above Green Peter Reservoir reported the animal begging for food and showing no fear of humans. ODFW state wildlife veterinarian Colin Gillin believes the bear may have been taken from the wild as a cub early last summer and then released before winter, after it had become accustomed to humans. “Someone may have picked it up thinking it was orphaned, kept it for a while, and then returned it to the forest,” he said.

The bear is very thin and weighs 25 pounds. Hair loss on its back and rear also indicate malnourishment. Due to its habituated behavior, it cannot be released back to the wild.If the bear’s physical exam tests show that it is healthy, Gillin will seek out an accredited zoo to take it. “We receive bear cubs every spring and summer,” he laments. “Those that have spent the winter without a mother are in fairly tough shape and very malnourished by spring.”

Similar problems occur with deer fawns, elk calves and other young wildlife picked up by people at this time of year. ODFW district offices across Oregon are getting calls from people concerned about “orphaned” fawns and calves they find huddled up in the forest.

“The mother deer or elk is usually not far away and will return for her young if they are left undisturbed and people are not around,” says ODFW Baker District Biologist Brian Ratliff, who recently counseled a man to leave an elk calf he found on the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest alone (see photo). “Never assume an animal is orphaned. If you saw the parent killed or the animal is injured, call ODFW, Oregon State Police or a wildlife rehabilitator.”

This yearling bear found east of Sweet Home was probably picked up as a cub and taken home as a pet. It’s become so habituated to people that it can’t go back to the wild.
Click images to enlarge. -ODFW photo-
An elk calf on the Wallowa Whitman National Forest earlier this month. Its mother is likely nearby. Never assume an animal is orphaned.

Unfortunately, people do pick up fawns, calves or other young wildlife and take them home this time of year. While they might be well-intentioned, this can lead to the animal’s early death. Young animals taken from the wild miss the chance to learn important survival skills from the parent animal like where to feed, what to eat, how to behave as part of a group and how to escape from predators. Research on deer shows that fawns that miss this vital learning rarely survive as long as their wild-reared counterparts, even after care by a licensed wildlife rehabilitator.

If an animal is injured, or truly orphaned, it needs special care. Oregon’s 40 licensed wildlife rehabilitators have the knowledge and facilities to provide this care. They use methods that limit human interaction and mimic the animal’s natural lifestyle as much as possible, so the animal has the best chance of survival when returned to the wild.

Taking animals out of the wild, transporting them, or keeping them at home are all violations of state law. Earlier this month, Oregon State Police cited an Eagle Point woman for unlawful possession of a prohibited species for keeping a half-blind western pond turtle as a pet for seven months. She picked it up off Highway 62 north of Eagle Point last October and took it home, where she fed it peanut butter, mushrooms and worms. Its eyesight worsened in the second eye due to infection. She eventually gave the turtle to Wildlife Images Rehabilitation Center in Grants Pass, where antibiotic treatment improved its eye infection and restored sight in one eye. The turtle was released back to the wild in the Agate Lake area today.

Follow these tips if you encounter young animals in the wild and never take an animal from the wild. If you see an injured or truly orphaned animal, call your local ODFW office, Oregon State Police, or a wildlife rehabilitator:

Deer, elk and other mammals:

  • Never assume an animal is orphaned. Don’t remove it from the forest, including your backyard. Female deer and elk and other mammals will often leave their young temporarily for safety reasons or to feed elsewhere. They will return when it is safe to do so (when people, dogs, or predators are not present).
  • Call your local ODFW office, Oregon State Police office, or a local licensed wildlife rehabilitation center when: 1) you see an animal that you know is orphaned because you observed the dead parent animal, or 2) the parent hasn’t returned for several hours or even up to a day, or 3) if the animal is clearly inured or in distress.
  • Bunnies are rarely orphaned; mother rabbits only visit den sites at dusk and dawn to feed her young.
  • Keep your dog or cat away from young wildlife, especially in the spring.
  • If you see a seal pup, young sea lion, or other marine mammal that appears stranded or in distress, contact OSP’s hotline at 1-800-452-7888.


  • Leave fledgling birds alone. It is natural for fledgling (mostly feathered) birds to be awkward while learning how to fly. If you see one on the ground, leave it alone and keep your distance. Bring your pets under control and indoors if possible. The mother bird will feed it for several days on the ground until it “gets its wings.
  • Return nestling birds to the nest. Nestlings (baby birds not fully feathered) found on the ground can be gently and quickly returned to the nest. If the nest is out of reach, place the bird on an elevated branch or fence, or in a nest made from a small box, out of the reach of children and pets. Leave the area so the parent birds can return.
  • Bring your pets indoors. Cats are a major cause of injury and death for all birds, killing millions of birds in the US annually. Keep your pets away from fledgling birds learning to fly.
  • Be careful when pruning trees as there may be a bird nest in the branch. Wait until birds are out of the nest.
  • Beware of cavity nesters. Barn owls and other birds could be nesting in hollowed-out trees or logs and in haystacks.
  • What if a bird flies into a window and appears hurt? Birds can be confused by reflective surfaces and mistakenly fly into windows. If you find a bird that has been stunned as a result of a window strike, put the bird in an uncovered box with a towel on the bottom. Keep it in a quiet place away from pets and check back in a couple of hours. If the bird has recovered, it will have flown off. If not, contact a local ODFW office or your local wildlife rehabilitator
  • Finally, let turtles cross the road. In May and June, females begin searching for suitable nesting grounds to lay their eggs. If you see a turtle on the ground, the best thing to do is leave it alone and let it continue on its path. It’s fine to move it off a road (if it is safe for you to do so,) but put it on the other side, where it was headed. More info

For more information and tips on how to help young wildlife, see Living with Wildlife




Michelle Dennehy
Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife
(503) 947-6022 / (503) 931-2748

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