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Give wildlife a chance: leave young wild animals where you found them

May 2, 2024

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SALEM, Ore.— Finding a young wild animal alone does not mean it needs to be rescued. In fact, the best course of action is to leave them where you find them. The advice you are likely to hear from ODFW if you pick up or bring young wildlife home is "put it back."

Kidnapping young wild animals can take away their best chance at survival. The misconception that a young animal found alone has been abandoned or orphaned often leads well-intentioned individuals to intervene, but this can harm the animal and hinder its chances of survival. It can also lead to a warning or citation from Oregon State Police.

Removing an animal from the wild is illegal under Oregon wildlife laws. (ORS 497.308 – No person shall remove from its natural habitat or acquire and hold in captivity any live wildlife in violation of the wildlife laws.)

Many wildlife species will leave their young while they forage for food. When people remove them from the wild, young animals miss the chance to learn where to seek cover, what to eat and how to escape from predators and other dangers. The time young animals spend with their parents and in their natural environment are crucial for the development of survival skills long term.

Unfortunately, every year around this time, ODFW offices, licensed wildlife rehabilitators, and even Oregon State Police are flooded with calls from well-intentioned people who picked up a deer fawn, elk calf, fledgling bird learning to fly, or other young animal they assumed was orphaned because it was alone.

Even if they receive care from a wildlife rehabilitator, successfully returning a young animal to the wild is not always possible. Options for long-term placement in wildlife sanctuaries or zoos are limited and animals often must be euthanized since they lack the survival skills to be released back into the wild. Some animals can also become dangerous as they grow into adults and pose a serious threat to human safety.

Here's how to help instead:

  • Keep pets and other domestic animals away from wildlife. Pets will stress wildlife, especially if there are young wildlife or fledgling birds in your yard. Keep dogs on a leash when recreating outside. Keep cats indoors to protect them and our native wildlife.
  • If you are certain an animal is orphaned because you observed the parent animal deceased, or you see an animal that is injured, please call ODFW, a licensed wildlife rehabilitator or OSP for advice.
  • Don't feed wildlife. All species of wildlife have a specialized diet that coincides with seasonal changes. Access to human-provided food can negatively impact their health, lead to conflict with people and in many cases have fatal consequences. When given access to food provided by people, wild animals can lose their fear of people and pose a threat to human safety.
  • Share this information with your friends, family and neighbors. Living responsibly with wildlife is possible and it's up to everyone to do their part to give wildlife a chance.

Deer and elk
Oregon's deer and elk give birth from May through July. It's natural for mother animals to leave their young alone and hidden for extended periods of time while they go off to feed, so never assume a young animal is orphaned when you see it alone. The mother will return when it's safe to do so—when people, pets or predators aren't around. Deer and elk see dogs as a threat to their young and may act aggressively in response to disturbance from a dog.

Marine mammals
Harbor seal pups are born in late March through April. Females often leave their pups at haul-outs or along sandy beaches while searching for food. Never pick up or handle a seal pup or any other marine mammal you find at the beach. Beachgoers should stay away from resting seals and sea lions and keep dogs away from these animals as well. Marine mammal strandings should be reported to OSP's hotline at 1-800-452-7888.

Birds nest in the spring and young birds may be found from late February through early summer. Some baby birds, called fledglings, may become separated from their parents as they learn to fly. These are sometimes thought to be abandoned and brought to wildlife rehabilitators. Unless obviously injured, birds should be left where they are or lifted carefully back onto a branch to help them avoid predators (like outdoor cats), so they have the best chance at survival.

Ducklings and goslings frequently become separated from their mothers due to disturbance from people or predators. If you spot young waterfowl without a mother, please leave them alone and leave the area so the mother can return.

Detections of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) in Oregon continue this year and it is important to avoid close contact with waterfowl (ducks and geese). Do not feed ducks and geese. Feeding congregates susceptible birds and enables the disease to spread between birds more easily. Also, note that Oregon's wildlife rehabilitators are not currently accepting injured or sick ducks and geese to protect other avian patients and education birds in their care.

Removing an animal from the wild often does more harm than good. Please respect wildlife and if you care – leave them there.

For more information on young wildlife visit https://www.dfw.state.or.us/resources/viewing/FAQs.asp


Contact: Beth Quillian, beth.s.quillian@odfw.oregon.gov
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