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Small Mammal Babies
A guide to help you make the best decision concerning when and when not to assist wildlife.
SMALL MAMMAL BABIES
In nature, young animals sometimes become separated from their parents and need help. If the mother's dead body has been seen or the young one is obviously injured, ill, cold, or starving - intervention is necessary. In many cases, however, when baby animals appear "orphaned" they actually are being well cared for. Over 75% of young animals that are rescued by well intentioned people do not need help.
General Mammal Information
Before you make any decision to intervene, the most important thing to do is to patiently observe the young animal in its surroundings to decide if the baby actually needs help. Make sure any cats and dogs are confined and children are kept out of the area. If the baby animal has its eyes open, is fully furred and is walking around, it probably just strayed too far from its mother while she is foraging. Watch from a distance for two hours before intervening.
Was there a storm with high winds? Could it have fallen from a nest? Was there a threat in the area that would force the mother to flee? If the baby is cold to the touch it has been separated from the parents too long and needs immediate help from a professional. Otherwise, if the baby animal is without fur or too young to walk with good balance, place it in a box with non-stringy bedding warmed in a dryer. Put the box at the base of a tree close to where you discovered it. Parents will reclaim babies, even though it may take a few hours. The mother may not miss the baby until her milk glands feel full or she hears it crying.
Sometimes you can gently handle the baby and it will cry, attracting the mother's attention. Human scent does NOT cause abandonment as the old wives tale says. Abandonment may occur if you are too close to the baby for the mother to return and she is kept away too long, so do what you need to as quickly as possible.
Wildlife's natural parents are always better at caring for them than human foster parents. Quite simply, a wild animal's chances of survival are greatly increased when left in their natural environment.
Individual Species Information
Gray Squirrels: General information
Flying Squirrels: General information, but must be done at night as this species is nocturnal
Opossum: If the mother is found dead you can check her pouch for naked babies. They are attached to her nipples but can be gently popped off with your thumb. If 7 or more inches long, have good balance and seem in good condition, are probably on their own so leave them alone.
Deer:Young fawns easily imprint on humans which can be dangerous for both the deer and humans. Humans have been attacked and killed by former "pet" deer encountered in the woods. Also, deer that are "tame" lose that wariness of man and man-made dangers, such as roads, that protects them from harm. Fawns must be reunited with the mother or raised in a rehabilitation center that can rear it correctly for release. The mothers will leave their young alone and feed elsewhere, so that predators will not be attracted to the helpless fawn. She will only come back to nurse twice during the day. If found lying quietly alone, leave undisturbed. Fawns do not have a scent to avoid detection by predators. "Kidnaped" fawns can often be returned to their mothers if taken back to where they were found within 8 hours. Older fawns that receive minor injuries may be treated and returned immediately to the area where they were found. They can usually locate the mother by themselves if given the chance.
Other mammals:When handling high risk rabies carriers such as raccoon, skunk, fox, otter, and bats, avoid direct contact. Use gloves, towels or a blanket when handling. If the den site or burrow is known, placing the baby nearby is sufficient.
If the parent does not return, and you decide to take responsibility for the young animal, it is important to get it to a licensed wildlife rehabilitator as soon as possible. They are permitted by the state Game and Fish Department and by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to provide care for wildlife. Keep the animal in a warm, dark and quiet place where it can't move around much (such as a small box) and don't attempt to feed it.
Always keep in mind that it is illegal to harass, harm, or possess wildlife. Enjoy observing wild animals in their natural surroundings, but don't try to touch them. If you observe someone harming or harassing wildlife, contact your local Game and Fish Department immediately. Your quick actions may help save a wild life!
(A portion of this information is taken from the Florida Audubon Society brochure October 1993)