More often than not, handling injured, sick, or orphaned wildlife can do more harm than good. Although our intentions are well-meaning, human interaction with wildlife should always be kept to a minimum. Humans often misinterpret normal wildlife behavior as abnormal and may unnecessarily disturb and stress wild animals by attempting to catch them.
Injured or Orphaned Mammals
Often, particularly in spring, concerned people pick up animals that they think are orphaned. More than 75 percent of such orphans “rescued” every spring should have been left alone. Most wild animals are dedicated parents and will not abandon their young, but they do leave them alone for long periods of time while looking for food. Additionally, many behaviors that people may view as abnormal actually are not in wildlife, and people may do much more harm than good by attempting to catch them for rehabilitation. Unless one of these guidelines applies, leave wildlife alone.
First, make sure it really is injured or orphaned. Sometimes a parent is close by but waiting for the human intruder to leave. Other times a dazed or unconscious animal is only temporarily stunned. The kindest thing you can do for these animals is keep them out of the way of predators by placing them in a box or elevated place.
Second, if the animal is hurt and you are able and willing to pick it up, do so with care (this includes heavy gloves), handling it as little as possible and keeping your hands away from its mouth (there is always potential for rabies among wild animals). Place the animal in a well-ventilated cardboard box in a dark, quiet, warm place. Do not feed it. Call a rehabilitation facility and follow their instructions. Do not attempt to rescue skunks or bats. These are high-risk animals that are potentially dangerous to your health. Never attempt to capture an adult sick or injured mammal. They are frightened and/or in pain and see you as a threat and can bite severely.
If a fawn or rabbit has been “rescued” when it shouldn’t have been, it can often be released at the same location — if it is on the same day. Parents tend to remain in the area for at least a day, looking for the lost youngster. Leave him as close as possible to where he was found and withdraw at least 50 yards and observe with binoculars until dusk. If the parent hasn’t picked up the little one by nightfall, you will need to contact a licensed wildlife rehabilitator.
If a wild animal has been injured or truly orphaned, locate a licensed wildlife rehabilitator by calling the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources’ toll-free wildlife conflict helpline at 1-855-571-9003, 8:00AM–4:30PM, Monday through Friday or visit the licensed wildlife rehabilitator section of this website.