West Virginia Department of Commerce

Nature Care: Leave Young Wildlife Alone

With abundant wildlife, it’s not uncommon for people to cross paths with a wild animal in West Virginia, especially during the spring and summer months. While the sight of wildlife can certainly be exciting, the WVDNR wants to remind people that picking up, touching or even getting close to wildlife can harm the animal.

“When you touch or approach young animals, you leave behind scent that predators may key in on, which brings risk to that young animal,” said Vinnie Johnson, a wildlife biologist for the WVDNR. “Watching these young animals can be an enjoyable pastime, but WVDNR recommends this be done from a distance with the use of binoculars.”

The handling of wildlife also can increase the risk of transmitting rabies, roundworms or other parasites, such as ticks, to the person handling the animal. Rabies is a viral disease that, when left untreated, is almost always fatal to humans. Rabies can be found in mammals such as raccoons, foxes and skunks. These animals are commonly found during the spring in West Virginia and if illegally possessed by humans can increase the risk of being exposed to rabies. 

“Another danger of handling young wildlife is exposing yourself to Lyme disease,” said Johnson. “Lyme disease is caused by the bite of a black-legged deer tick, which carries the disease. When handling wildlife, the likelihood of encountering the tick is extremely high, so be careful.”

What Young Wildlife That Looks Abandoned?

WVDNR district offices receive numerous calls regarding young wildlife, especially fawns, rabbits and birds. An adult doe will leave its fawn hidden for many hours while it searches for food and the fawn remains still while the mother is away. Fawns have a unique color pattern and have little to no scent which allows them to remain undetected by predators. If a predator nears a fawn, it will remain still until the last moment possible when it will flee to safety. People sometime view this behavior and lack of parental care as abandonment but that is far from the case. 

Young birds are often picked up because people assume they fell out of the nest, and at times, this can be the case. If the bird is pink and featherless and the nest is easy to reach, the nestling can be put back into the nest. Most of the time, though, the bird is fledging. This is when a young bird has intentionally left the nest to learn how to feed and fly. These young birds are feathered but look poor and they hop or make short flights. Because of this behavior people assume they fell out of the nest. 

Not only are humans poor substitutes for wildlife parents, but it is also illegal to possess wildlife without a permit. Fines for the unlawful possession of a bear cub, fawn, squirrel, bird or any other animal ranges from $20 up to $300 and/or 10 to 100 days in jail.

“We want people to enjoy the wildlife that West Virginia has to offer,” said Joh

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