If You Care, Leave Them There!

The following is a press release from MassWildlife, the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife.  As we begin to get calls about baby turtles and baby seals, we thought this message was particularly appropriate.


Diamondback Terrapin hatchling newly emerged from the mud after a winter of "brumation".
Diamondback Terrapin hatchling newly emerged from the mud after a winter of "brumation". NMLC photo.

The arrival of spring means the arrival of newborn and just-hatched wildlife. These youngsters soon venture into the world on shaky legs or fragile wings and are discovered by people living and working nearby. Every year, the lives of many young wild creatures are disturbed by people who take young wildlife from the wild in a well-intentioned attempt to “save” them. Division of Fisheries and Wildlife (MassWildlife) offices are already receiving calls about young wildlife picked up by people.

These well-meant acts of kindness tend to have the opposite result. Instead of being left to learn their place in the world, young wildlife removed from the wild are denied important natural learning experiences that help them survive on their own. Most people quickly find that they can’t really care for young wildlife, and many of the animals soon die in the hands of well-meaning people. Young wildlife that does survive human “assistance” miss experiences that teach them to fend for themselves. If these animals are released back into the wild, their chances of survival are reduced. Often, the care given to young wildlife results in some attachment to humans and the animals may return to places where people live, only to be attacked by domestic animals or hit by cars. Some animals become nuisances and people have even been injured by once-tamed wildlife.

Harbor seal pup.  NMLC photo.
Harbor seal pup. NMLC photo.

Avoid these problems by following one simple rule when coming upon young wildlife: If You Care, Leave Them There! It may be difficult to do, but this is a real act of compassion. The young are quite safe when left alone because their color patterns and lack of scent help them remain undetected. Generally the parent will visit their young only a few times a day to avoid leaving traces that attract predators. Wildlife parents are not disturbed by human scent. Baby birds found on the ground may be safely picked up and placed in a nearby bush or tree. Avoid nest and den areas of young wildlife and restrain all pets.

Leave fawns (young deer) where they are found. Fawns are safest when left alone because their camouflaging color helps them remain undetected until the doe returns. Unlike deer, newborn moose calves remain in close proximity to their mothers who, in contrast to a white-tailed doe, will actively defend calves against danger. An adult cow moose weighing over 600 pounds will chase, kick and stomp a potential predator, people included.

Only when young wildlife are found injured or with their dead mother may the young be assisted, but must then be delivered immediately to a licensed wildlife rehabilitator. Due to the difficulty in properly caring for them there are no rehabilitators licensed to care of fawns. It is illegal to possess most wildlife in Massachusetts. Information on young wildlife is on line at www.mass.gov/masswildlife and a list of licensed wildlife rehabilitators is posted at: http://www.mass.gov/dfwele/dfw/wildlife/rehab/wildlife_rehab_index.htm.

Editor’s Note:  The National Marine Life Center is not included in the above list of wildlife rehabilitators as marine animals are managed separately from other wildlife.  NMLC is authorized by the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the National Marine Fisheries Service for our sea turtle, and eventual seal and dolphin, rehabilitation work.

If you see a seal pup on the beach, please call the International Fund for Animal Welfare’s Marine Mammal Rescue & Research Program at 508-743-9548 (Cape Cod), or the authorized marine mammal stranding network organization in your area.  Click here for a list of NOAA-authorized organizations.