Ellen Dicken: Orphaned and abandoned – or just wild?

Ellen Dicken - Contributing columnist

In high school, I was called to the office during study hall. As most kids do, I instantly panicked. What did I do? I walked into the office ready to confess all of my wrongdoings. To my surprise, I wasn’t called to be reprimanded. I was actually asked to do a favor.

The director took a deep breath and said, “So, my kids have gotten me into quite the predicament.”

I asked, “Oh why?”

He rolled his eyes and said: “My wife walked outside yesterday to find them playing with some baby bunnies. I’m sure that the mother had abandoned them. So, we brought the baby bunnies into our house. Now, what do I do?”

So, what do you do if you find young wildlife that you believe is abandoned?

Most people have good intentions when trying to help wild animals, but many don’t know when their help might actually hurt.

Let’s test your knowledge with these wildlife related facts and myths.

• Fact or myth? If you touch a baby animal, the mother will abandon it because of the human scent you left on its young.

Myth! The real issue is disturbance, not smell. The best thing to do if you come across wildlife that is alone is to leave it alone. Baby rabbits are one of the most common to be mistaken as abandoned. Did you know that mother rabbits only feed their babies for about five minutes, twice a day at dawn and dusk?

• Fact or myth? It is illegal to take wild animals into possession without proper permits.

Fact! According to the Ohio Revised Code, “no person at any time of the year shall take in any manner or possess any number or quantity of wild animals, except wild animals that the Revised Code or division (ODNR Division of Wildlife) rules permit to be taken, hunted, killed, or had in possession, and only at the time and place and in the manner that the Revised Code or division rules prescribe.”

• Fact or myth? If you come across “hurt” or “abandoned” wildlife, you should offer them food and/or water because they cannot get it themselves.

Myth! The Ohio Division of Wildlife directs citizens to not give these animals food or water because “inappropriate food can lead to sickness or death.” Also, wild animals have complex nutritional needs that cannot be met in captivity. As a result of a nutritional deficiency, some may become deformed and/or die.

• Fact or myth? Wildlife taken out of the wild has a 90 percent chance of not surviving.

Fact! A young wild animal’s best chance for survival is with its mother. Also keep in mind that wildlife has the possibility of carrying both diseases and parasites — some of which are transmittable to both humans and other pets. Diseases like rabies can lead to serious health problems in humans.

• Fact or myth? An animal that has become habituated to humans cannot be returned to the wild.

Fact! An animal that has been grown accustomed to human interaction cannot be returned to the wild. As wildlife grows, they become more active and independent. This makes them both dangerous and destructive. Wildlife can become dependent on people for their food source. In result, they will not be able to survive in the wild where they will have to find food on their own.

What should you do if you find wildlife that is believed to be injured or abandoned?

Contact a rehabilitator at the Division of Wildlife by phone at 614-644-3925 for assistance.

I wish I could finish my high school story by telling you that the baby bunnies survived their stay in the house; however, this is not a fairy tale ending and, sadly, none of the bunnies survived. Knowing that, this is a gentle reminder to leave wildlife in the wild. Good intentions can hurt.


Ellen Dicken

Contributing columnist

Ellen Dicken is an intern at the Delaware Soil and Water Conservation District.

Ellen Dicken is an intern at the Delaware Soil and Water Conservation District.