What to do if you find wild animal in need
Many wild animals are born during the spring and summer months. In your own back garden, you may come across baby rabbits, squirrels, deer, and other young wildlife as they make their way into the world.
For many people, the pleasure of seeing these young creatures is mixed with a sense of protectiveness—of wanting to help them survive. Read on to find out if your help might be needed or if you should leave the animal be. Find a list of useful contacts at the bottom of this page or click here to be taken there.
Should you intervene?
Wild animals can suffer greatly through being handled and this should be avoided unless absolutely necessary. If the animal has any one of the following signs, he or she is probably sick or injured and in need of assistance:
- bleeding or wounded
- seen in a cat’s or dog’s mouth, or if there is a likelihood that the animal was picked up by a cat or dog
- wet and/or shivering
- hit by a car, lawnmower, boat, or other vehicle
- a drooping wing (But if both wings appear to be “drooping” by the same amount, it could be normal—it depends on the species)
Some young animals appear injured when they’re not. If the animal has none of the above signs, he may be healthy.
Is the animal an orphan?
The Louth SPCA often receives phone calls about orphan animals that aren’t really orphaned at all. Many young animals may appear to be orphaned, but actually may be doing just fine on their own. Determining whether or not an animal is an orphan depends on the animal’s age and species, and how you may perceive their natural behaviors. Here’s more information on the young of species you may encounter, to help you decide whether or not they need to be rescued.
Often fox kits will appear unsupervised for long periods of time while their parents are out hunting for food. Observe the kits from a distance; if they seem energetic and healthy, just leave them alone. Only contact a wildlife rehabilitator if the kits appear sickly or weak, or if you have reason to believe both parents are dead.
If you find a nest of baby rabbits and the nest is intact and the babies uninjured, leave them alone. Mother rabbits only visit their young 2-3 times a day to avoid attracting predators.
If the rabbit nest has been disturbed, or if you think the babies are orphaned, recover the nest with surrounding natural materials such as grass and leaves.
- Put an “X” of sticks or yarn over the nest to assess if the mother is returning to nurse her young.
- If the “X” is moved but the nest is still covered by the next day, the mother has returned to nurse the babies.
- If the “X” remains undisturbed for 24 hours, contact a wildlife rehabilitator near you.
Keep all pets out of the area, as they will surely find and kill the young rabbits. Also, try not to touch the babies, as mother rabbits are very sensitive to foreign smells and may abandon their young. A rabbit who is four inches long with open eyes and erect ears is independent of his mother and able to fend for himself.
If tree work was recently done and the nest or baby fell down as a result, give the mother squirrel a chance to reclaim her young.
If the baby is uninjured, leave him where he is, then leave the area and keep people and pets away. Monitor from a safe distance.
If the baby is not retrieved by sundown, contact a local wildlife rehabilitator. If it’s chilly outside, or the baby isn’t fully furred, place him in a shallow box with something warm underneath (like a heating pad on a low setting or a hot water bottle) so he doesn’t get cold and compromised while waiting for his mother to return. Do not cover the squirrel with leaves or blankets, as the mother may not be able to find him.
Note: A squirrel who is nearly full sized, has a full and fluffy tail and is able to run, jump, and climb is independent.
If you come across a young deer, remember they are also very resilient in the wild but very difficult to rehabilitate once removed from their natural habitat – they often die from stress. People often mistakenly assume that a baby deer, called a fawn, is orphaned if found alone. Rest assured that the mother deer, the doe, is probably nearby. The doe will only visit and nurse her fawn a few times a day to avoid attracting predators. Roe deer give birth in May and June and fallow deer mostly have their young in June. Fawns can walk within an hour of being born. Unless you know the mother is dead, leave the fawn alone.
Mother deer are wary of human smells; if you have already handled the fawn, take a towel, rub it in the grass, and then wipe down the fawn to remove all human scent. Then return the fawn to the place where you found him.
If the fawn is lying on his side, or wandering and crying incessantly, he may be orphaned. If this is the case, call a wildlife rehabilitator in your area. But remember: a fawn found alone and quiet is okay.
Who can you contact?
Republic of Ireland:
- Wildlife Rehabilitation Ireland, Hospital & Sanctuary, Navan, Co. Meath. 24/7 R&R & advice. All wildlife. 081 887 7766 or 01 687 7766.
- www.irishwildlifematters.ie/animals/contacts.htmlfor lists of Rehabers’ & Vets’ specialties & areas. Also advice on all wildlife.
- www.batconservationireland.ie. Advice on Bats only. 086 404 9468.
- BirdWatch Ireland. Advice on Birds only. 01 281 9878 in-office hours.
- Irish Hare Initiative, Co. Down. Advice on Hares & leverets only.Info@irishhare.org.
- www.IWDG.ie. Whale & dolphin strandings.
- Oiled Wildlife Response Network. Help & advice.Www.oiledwildliferesponse.ie.
- Seal Rescue Ireland, Courtown, Co. Wexford. Rehab & advice. 087 195 5393 / 053 942 4980.
- Northern Ireland Environment Agency. Wildlife authority. 0300 200 7856.
- Northern Ireland Badger Group, Belfast. Advice:www.badgersni.org.uk.
- Northern Ireland Bat Group. Bat Rehab. Office hrs: +44 289 039 5264 or +44 345 130 0228. After hrs: +44 739 954 9625.
- Ulster SPCA. +44 283 025 1000.