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Oklahoma State University
Center for Veterinary Health Sciences

Healthy Animals - Healthy People

Wildlife and You

Friday, March 13 2015

Veterinary Viewpoints

When people find baby animals alone what should they do?

When people find wild animals, especially young ones that appear to be hurt or deserted, their natural instinct is to help the animal.   Dr. Joao Brandao, assistant professor of Zoological Medicine at OSU’s Veterinary Medical Hospital, discusses some dos and don’ts people can follow for their own safety as well as that of the animals. 

First, determine if the animal is injured. If it is, bring it to a wildlife rehabilitator. If it is not, replace it in the nest (if available) or create a new nest. The parents will always be better at raising their babies than people.

The nest may not be easy to spot. With baby birds, it may be in a tree or in a hole under a roof. With mammals, the nest may be located underground. If you can safely reach it, place the animal in the nest.

If the nest is destroyed, try to create a new one. Poke holes in the bottom of a berry basket or margarine tub and place dry grass, parts of the old nest or pine needles inside. Hang the nest in the original or nearby tree. Don’t place it directly under the sun; this may be too hot for the babies. Also try to have some coverage to protect them from potential rain.

Observe the nest for the next few hours to determine if adult birds are coming to take care of them. If the parents come, leave them in the nest and do not disturb it. If no birds come, contact a local rehabilitator for further ideas or bring the babies to your local rehabilitator.

Why is it harmful to the wild animal if a person moves it?

If you find a young animal that appears to be abandoned, do not pick it up! Many animals, such as rabbits and owls, do not visit the nest or feed their babies often. Deer will leave their fawns alone in a field for several hours.

These behaviors protect the younglings by preventing predators from discovering the location of newborns or hatchlings while the parents look for food. To increase the baby’s chance of survival, leave the area immediately and do not remove it from the area.

Many backyard birds frequently outgrow their nest leaving it days before they can actually fly. Also if it is too hot, they may leave in search of cooler areas before they can survive on their own.

The parent birds will most likely continue to care for their young, even away from the nest, so do not remove the fledglings from the area. To protect young animals, keep cats and dogs away or move the animal to the nearest shrub or natural cover. Then leave the area so that the parents may come for them. The parents will naturally respond to the food-begging calls of their young.

What should someone do when they find a hurt/wounded wild animal?

If the animal is injured, contact or bring the animal to your local wildlife rehabilitator. Although wild animals do not tend to be aggressive, they may feel threatened and try to protect themselves.

It is important to be extremely careful when trying to capture injured wildlife. Also, keep in mind that the animal may injure itself more when you try to catch it. For example, a bird with a broken wing will try to flap its wings causing more damage.

For most animals, covering their head with a towel may calm them down. This will also allow you to catch the animal without causing as much stress.

If you decide to catch the animal, use thick gloves to protect yourself. Place the animal in a cardboard box (with premade holes to allow ventilation) and place it in a warm, quiet, and dark area. Do not try to feed these animals as inappropriate foods may be more harmful than no food at all.

If you do not have appropriate equipment or feel uncomfortable catching the animal, contact local or state agencies (animal control or wildlife rehabilitators) for further assistance.

What happens to wild animals brought to OSU’s Veterinary Medical Hospital?

The OSU Veterinary Medical Hospital takes in relinquished wildlife free of charge to the Good Samaritan who presents it.

The Zoological Medicine Service staff and veterinary students assess these animals and provide appropriate care. Depending on the physical exam findings, diagnostic tests may be performed. The animals may be medically managed or may require surgery in order to resolve the presenting complaint.

Trauma is one of the most common causes of injuries in wild animals and often causes bone fractures. These animals may require surgical repair of the fracture in order to fly or survive in the wild.

Once the medical condition is resolved, birds will be sent to a flight cage where their flight is tested over several days or weeks. Once their flight capacity is adequate, the animal will be released back into the wild.

It is important to mention that the ultimate goal is to release these animals back into the wild and not to keep them in captivity. If the animal is deemed non-releasable, efforts will be made to place it in an educational program. However, if this is not possible and the animal’s injuries compromise its welfare, humane euthanasia may be necessary.

What happens when the animals are healthy?

A non-injured animal will probably need a shorter rehabilitation period than an injured animal. However, orphan juvenile animals may still require several weeks of nursing until they reach an age where they can eat and survive alone. Also, non-injured animals may require physical exercise like flying; therefore, they are also placed in flight cages to exercise prior to release.

The Zoological Medicine Service and the Zoo, Exotic, and Wildlife student club will organize the release of wild animals treated by OSU. Efforts will be made to include members of the public, in particular, local schools or other local groups. The intent is to make this an educational experience prior to the release. Lectures will focus on wildlife and environmental conservation, the work done at OSU, the importance of preserving and protecting wildlife, and general environmental education. The corner stone to OSU’s wildlife rehabilitation program, this outreach will provide an educational opportunity to attendees but it is also a tremendous personal and professional experience for the veterinary students involved. 

Services provided by OSU’s Zoological Medicine Service are free of charge to society. Nevertheless, there are costs associated with treating these animals. Funds for treatment are provided by public donations through the OSU Foundation and by Zoo, Exotic, and Wildlife student club activities. Financial support for the program allows the Zoological Medicine Service to provide state of the art medical and surgical care to their patients.  Your support fosters community education and appreciation for Oklahoma wildlife. 

If you are interested in contributing to the care and treatment of native wildlife, please consider donating. Any help is welcome and very much appreciated. To donate, contact Heather Clay at the OSU Foundation at (405) 385-5607 or hclay@osugiving.com.

Originally from Oporto, Portugal, Dr. Brandao earned his veterinary degree (LMV) from the University of Tras-os-Montes e Alto Douro in Vila Real, Portugal.  As part of his educational training, he completed a three-year zoological medicine residency and Master of Science degree in Veterinary Clinical Sciences at the Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge, La. Dr. Brandao has been involved in wildlife rehabilitation, including oiled wildlife response, for more than 14 years in his home country of Portugal, in other European countries, and in several states in the USA.

by Elisabeth J. Giedt, DVM


Veterinary Viewpoints is provided by the faculty of the OSU Veterinary Medical Hospital.  Certified by the American Animal Hospital Association, the hospital is open to the public providing routine and specialized care for all species and 24-hour emergency care, 365 days a year.