PGC: Wildlife is born to be wild, and humans should keep it that way

Spring has transitioned into summer and there is a dearth of new life to be found. Flowers are blooming, insects buzz during the late twilight hours and wildlife everywhere is repopulating the forests and meadows of Pennsylvania.

In many places in the staten contact with wildlife, particularly young wildlife, is inevitable. This is where problems can arise, the state Game Commission reports.

Many people who come across young wildlife for the first time fear that the animal has been abandoned and take the animal home to “care for it.”

What may at first appear to be a noble act actually is the beginning of a very problematic situation for both the animal and the person “rescuing” it.

Bringing home a wild animal also means bringing home any disease-carrying parasites that the animal may have. Any ticks, fleas or lice the animal has can expose people to a host of diseases, including Lyme disease.

Any warm-blooded animal also is a potential carrier of rabies, a disease that can be transmitted to humans through the saliva of an infected animal.

The trouble isn’t just limited to exposure of diseases, though. Bringing a wild animal home and caring for it removes the animal’s natural fear and inhibitions toward humans.

In an official statement released by the Game Commission, the agency shares a story of a buck that had been raised from a fawn by a family. The animal later attacked and seriously injured two people because of its lack of fear.

“Habitating wildlife to humans is a serious concern, because if wildlife loses its natural fear of humans it can pose a public safety risk,” said Game Commission Bureau of Wildlife Protection Director Rich Palmer.

So what’s to be done the next time you are walking in the woods and come across a young fawn, litter of fox kits or a young raccoon? Just leave it be.

The Game Commission says it is natural for these animals to be left alone for a time by their parents. The animals employ what’s commonly referred to as a “hider strategy.”

“An adult animal has a much stronger scent than a young or newly born animal so they leave their young hidden and remain a safe distance away for the infant’s protection,” said Travis Lau, press secretary for the Game Commission.

Many young animals are born with natural camouflage, for example, the white spots on a fawn.

When a person removes a young animal, even though their intentions are for the best, they disrupt the natural order of things.

There also are possible legal repercussions because wildlife are protected under state law.

Although the Game Commissions handles the removal of young wildlife on a case-by-case basis, the result is never what the well-meaning person intends.

“There’s only a limited number of wildlife rehabilitators in the state,” Lau said. “So, our first course of action is to see if we can relocate the animal there. If that’s not possible, then we may be forced to euthanize the animal as a last possible resort.”

Some animals do not make for successful rehabilitation. One example of this is white-tailed deer.

“It would be extremely rare for us to rehabilitate a fawn … especially now that chronic wasting disease has turned up in some sections of the state but hasn’t been detected in others. Transporting deer from one area to another poses a substantial risk for spreading disease,” Lau said.

The legal ramifications of removing wildlife without just cause also are enforced and come with steep penalties.

One of the lesser charges is unlawful taking or possession of wildlife, for which an individual can receive up to $800 in fines and also a month in jail.

“The most serious charge that could be filed is ‘unlawful taking from the wild,’ which is a summary one (offense), carrying a maximum penalty of $1,500 in fines and 90 days in jail,” Lau said.

If a person comes across a wild animal that has been injured and is need of rescue, they should contact their local Game Commission officer and allow the agency to handle it.

The next time you are on a foray into nature and happen across young wildlife, just practice the “let it be” strategy. It will be better for you – and the animal – in the long run.