There are many stories of people interacting with wildlife in a disastrous way. There are stories of injuries or even death involved in people taking selfies with animals; for example, an endangered dolphin died after a crowd of people held it on a beach to take selfies with it. Most times, the people at the center of the story are well intentioned: they saw a baby animal (like a bison or a harbor seal) all by itself and end up taking it to a nearby park ranger or wildlife center. Those stories ended with the baby animal sadly being euthanized.
Interacting with wildlife seems to be a skill that not many know how to use. It can be exciting and wonderful to be up close and personal with many kinds of wildlife, especially if you’re travelling or not accustomed to seeing such an animal in person. I’ve written about some of the ways we can safely interact with wildlife before, including the best ways to feed wildlife if you want to! However, I also wanted to share some ways in which to safely and respectfully interact with wildlife that’s injured or potentially abandoned.
- The Right and Wrong Ways to Interact With Wild Animals While Traveling by Jess McHugh, Travel and Leisure
**These tips are for folks like me that have little to no experience with wildlife rehabilitation. It’s really important that if you do see an injured or abandoned animal in the wild that you contact nearby professionals.
Reporting An Injured Animal
If you do come across an animal that’s injured in some way, don’t pick it up or attempt to bring it somewhere, especially if it’s a large animal. The local Department of Fish and Wildlife might have some resources to help the animal and there are many nongovernmental organizations that work on wildlife rehabilitation. These organizations and departments are going to have the experience, education, and resources to best help the animal. See below for more information.
There are many stories about people finding what they think are abandoned animals and trying to help them. However, many wild animals will actually leave their young children alone for periods of time to find food and will often come back. It may not seem natural to us as humans but while the young animal might seem abandoned, it’s likely fine and the mother will be back soon. This goes for many kinds of wildlife that live in many different types of habitats: elk, sea otters, seals, bunnies, and many more.
- Fact or Fiction?: Birds (and Other Critters) Abandon Their Young at the Slightest Human Touch by Robynne Boyd, Scientific American
If you are worried about an animal potentially being abandoned, the best thing to do is leave it alone and give it space. It seems counterintuitive for us but honestly, the mother will more than likely come back for its baby. But taking it away without the education, know how, and context can have so many negative ramifications on the animal. Plus, marine mammals are protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act and it may be illegal for you to take a marine mammal from the beach.
There is a chance that for whatever reason, the babies have been abandoned. If you do think this is the case, I recommend calling a trained wildlife rehabilitator so they can assess the situation.
Who Should You Call?
Who you should contact if you see an injured or potentially abandoned animal will depend on the animal and where you’re located. Here are some resources that can best point you to who you need to call in these situations:
- National Wildlife Rehabilitators Association
- Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife
- PAWS [organization, Western Washington]
- Seattle Animal Shelter
- Resources on what to do if you find injured/sick or even dead wildlife
- Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife
- Wildlife Rehabilitation information
- You can become a wildlife rehabilitator with the WDFW but as a fair warning, it will take 1,000 hours of work to receive your permit and many more hours of continuing education. Find out more here: Wildlife Rehabilitation Manual
- I do want to highlight something from the WDFW site about wildlife rehabilitation:
- “Most wildlife rehabilitators are unable to provide services to pick up wildlife. Wildlife rehabilitators, including veterinarians, are volunteers and by law may not be paid for their services except by donation. They are not on call 24 hours/day and many of them have their facilities at their home. Please respect their time, compassion, and personal expense put into every animal they care for and please consider donating to these caregivers. Wildlife Rehabilitators are limited by their state and federal permits as to how many and what species of animals they may admit to their facility.”
- Washington Wildlife Rehabilitation Association
- The WWRA website has resources for both rehabilitators in the state and for the general public, including on:
- Wildlife Rescue Association of British Columbia
- Wildlife Helpline: (604)526-7275
- 10am to 4pm, 7 days a week
- Resources on what to do if you find different animals
- Wildlife Helpline: (604)526-7275
Who you need to call will depend on the animal you find and where you’re at. Someone who works with predator birds in southern Oregon isn’t going to be much help if you find a harbor seal on a Puget Sound beach or a grizzly cub in a British Columbia forest, for instance. The best thing to do if you’re in a national/state park or just out and about and find a wild animal that could be injured is to talk to a trained professional before making any decision, especially if it’s a larger animal.
There are folks who do find sick, young wildlife and bring them home with some success. Pumpkin the raccoon is one of the most popular examples of this but it’s not something that can often be replicated nor should one try. Wild animals don’t make good pets because they’re not meant to live in such close proximity to humans and it’s not something that I can recommend doing.
If you’re interested in wildlife or having kids who are, the best ways to interact with wildlife is from a respectful distance. And if you do find an injured or potentially abandoned animal, the best thing to do is contact a local wildlife rehabilitator to help.