Wild Colorado: Don’t handle young wildlife
SUMMIT COUNTY – Springtime in the High Country ushers in a new generation of wildlife, from big game species to small mammals and birds.Plentiful as young wildlife are this time of year, it’s not uncommon for humans to encounter them all alone on trails, in the woods, next to roads, in pastures and even in residential yards. But as tempting as it might be to “help” a young animal by picking it up or offering it food, wildlife experts caution people against approaching, touching or handling the creatures.”For some people, it’s hard not to act on their human instincts to do something for an animal,” said Mike Reid, district wildlife manager for the Division of Wildlife (DOW) in Pagosa Springs. “But the animal hasn’t been abandoned – the mother is just off feeding and sometimes leaves her young alone for several hours. An animal’s natural parents are its best parents.”In Summit County, people are most likely to come across deer fawns, elk calves, fox kits, skunk kits and coyote pups.According to the Division of Wildlife, people frequently pick up young animals and then call wildlife officials asking what needs to be done to “save” them. Unfortunately, if a young animal is handled by a human, it will likely die without the nourishment its mother provides.”If someone picks up an animal, they are essentially kidnapping it from their parents,” Reid said.While mothers feed, they often leave their young alone to help them avoid predators and to help them learn to survive in the wild. Young deer fawns, for example, have no scent and are born with speckled coats that provide a natural camouflage. These two factors help them avoid being found by predators. When the mother doe senses a predator might be near, she moves away from her young. Many other animals use similar survival techniques. “Typically, the young animal is staying put, and mama will come back.” said Dean Riggs, DOW assistant regional manager. “The best thing for that animal is for the mother to come back and get it.”The only exception is when a young animal is in the middle of a road. In this situation, a person should approach the animal to get it to move, but should not touch it. The mother will likely find it later. Young birds often fall out of their nests or are pushed out by parents encouraging them to fly. A young bird should not be touched unless it can be placed quickly back into its nest – but only if the nest is easily accessible.”If a young bird is on the ground, it will quickly learn to fly,” Reid said. “It’s best to let nature take its course.”People should also understand that not all newborn animals will survive, officials say. Mortality in wildlife is high, and that is part of the natural cycle. If you see a young animal, admire it from a distance, and then move on quietly. It’s also a good idea to talk to youngsters about the importance of leaving wildlife alone.Wildlife officials also encourage people to keep their pets under control. Dogs, acting on their natural predator instincts, can find animals and attack them. The stress of being attacked is usually fatal for young animals unable to defend themselves.Cats are adept at finding eggs and young birds, and many studies have shown that cats are damaging the songbird population. Thus, Division of Wildlife asks that people not allow their cats to roam free.If you are concerned about a creature, make a report to the local DOW office at (970) 262-9316.Julie Sutor can be reached at (970) 668-4630 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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