Who hasn’t seen a baby bird, fox, or other fuzzy animal, and just wished they could take it home! I’m with you - baby animals are sooo adorable. But there are good reasons that we leave wild animals in nature – read on to learn why.
Tame vs Domesticated Animals
Firstly, it will be helpful to clarify the difference between a tame animal and a domestic animal. These might sound like they mean the same thing, but they don’t. An individual animal can be tamed, and trained to show more desirable behaviours. There isn’t a strict easy definition of domestication, but typically it means that plants or animals over time become genetically different from their wild counterparts, and no longer need the same level of training to appear tame. This blog delves into further detail on this subject. Cats and dogs have been domesticated for thousands of years – this means they have been bred to promote more social characteristics for long enough that they behave significantly differently than their wild counterparts. Wild animals, as cute as they look, are still very wild, and they often have characteristics that make them bad pets.
One example of this is antisocial behaviour. Puppies that have been bred from a mix of wolves and dogs (known as wolf dogs) can be very shy, and require significant spaces to roam that are securely fenced. Another example is the case of wild foxes, which are sometimes taken as pets to rescue them from fur farms. Foxes have a strong odor and spray to mark their territory, as well as may behave aggressively and unpredictably towards unfamiliar humans, and sometimes even familiar ones. If you are curious to learn more, read about the Yamnuska Wolfdog Sanctuary or about Juniper the Fox here.
Sometimes people see an orphaned, or seemingly orphaned baby animal, and just want to raise it and then release it into the wild. This is a wonderful sentiment, but unfortunately, it is not so easy.
Raising wild animals to release into the wild is often a much more difficult task than most people realize. Birds are a great example of this. Many bird species imprint on their parents as soon as they open their eyes, and learn from that what species they are and who they should mate with. Even if a person raises a baby chick successfully and releases it, there is a good chance that it won’t recognize its own species in the wild.
Another common occurrence is baby rabbits. Mother rabbits leave their babies alone during the day so that predators won’t find them, as baby rabbits haven’t developed any scent yet. Well-meaning people may find them, think they are abandoned, and try to raise them. But rabbits are docile, prey animals, and they are so scared that about half of baby rabbits being raised even by licensed and experienced rehabbers just die of fright from being around humans.
Not only that, but birds and other animals learn valuable skills about how to survive from watching their parents. Wildlife rehabbers, whenever possible, try to have the same species as a foster parent for many animals, so they can learn how to interact with their environment. If baby animals are not raised by their parents, they may not know how to find food in the wild, how to store food for later, or even how to recognize predators. They can be easy pickings when released into the wild.
What to do then?
What should you do if you find abandoned of injured animal? A licensed rehabilitation professional can help. The first thing to do is confirm that the animal definitely needs rescuing. A baby hare, baby deer, or a fully feathered baby bird on the ground, does not need rescuing unless they are in immediate danger. Try first just moving the baby out of immediate danger, or taking it inside in a cardboard box and returning it at nightfall. If you have an injured or truly abandoned baby, and you are in the Edmonton area, call WildNorth. If you live elsewhere, do an internet search for “wildlife rescues” and find one near you.
Laws in Canada recognize that wild animals require special care that most people cannot provide, and we have a desire to see our wildlife remain wild and free. If you do find an abandoned orphaned baby animal or even an injured one, it is illegal to keep it unless you are a licensed wildlife rehabber with training on how to care for wildlife.
The Pet Trade
While exotic pet trading is less of an issue now in some parts of the world, it is still a thriving trade in others, and it has major impacts for some species at risk. Is that rarest of the rare pet really worth causing extinctions over? If you do decide to take on certain wild pets, please purchase from respectable breeders, and never capture a pet from the wild. There are many examples where people raise these birds and other exotic species as pets and coexist wonderfully, but there are also many instances where they don’t. It is important to remember that once we take on the responsibility, we are committed to caring for that animal for the rest of its life, and to continue to educate others on the laws and morals of caring for wildlife.
How to Help
If this has got you down, don’t worry – you can support wildlife out in nature and in your own backyard. Build or buy a bird box and put it in your yard, and check out these other suggestions for how to make sure your backyard is a safe place for wildlife. Nature is a beautiful place, and you can still have a respectful place in it!