This is the time of year when many Colorado wildlife species are born. It’s also the time when people often see young wildlife all alone on trails, in the woods or next to roads. As tempting as it might be to “help” a young animal by picking it up or offering it food, the Colorado Division of Wildlife reminds people not to approach, touch or handle young animals.
“For some people it’s hard not to act on their human instincts to do something for an animal,” said Mike Reid, district wildlife manager for the DOW in Pagosa Springs. “But the animal hasn’t been abandoned, the mother is just off feeding and sometimes leaves her young alone for several hours. An animal’s natural parents are its best parents.”
Every year people pick up young animals such as deer fawns, elk calves, small mammals or birds, and then call the DOW asking what needs to be done to “save” the animal. Unfortunately, if a young animal is handled it will likely die without the nourishment its mother provides.
“If someone picks up an animal, they are essentially kidnapping it from their parents,” Reid said.
Young animals are often left alone while their mother feeds to help them avoid predators and to help them learn to survive in the wild. Deer provide a good example of how wildlife adapts behaviors to help them survive. Young fawns have no scent and are born with speckled coats that provide a natural camouflage. These two factors help them avoid being found by predators. When the mother doe senses a predator might be near she moves away from her young. Many other animals use similar survival techniques.
The only time Reid suggests moving an animal is if it’s in the middle of a road. But only approach the animal to get it to move, don’t touch it. The mother will find it later.
Young birds often fall out of their nests or are pushed out by parents encouraging them to fly. Young birds should not be touched. An exception can be made if a bird can be placed quickly back into its nest — but only if the nest is easily accessible.
“If a young bird is on the ground it will quickly learn to fly,” Reid said. “It’s best to let nature take its course.”
People also need to keep their pets under control. Dogs — acting on their natural predator instincts — can find animals and attack them. The stress of being attacked is usually fatal for young animals unable to defend themselves.
Cats also are adept at finding eggs and young birds. Cats are pets — but they’re also predators. Many studies show that cats are damaging the songbird population. The DOW asks that people not allow their cats to roam free.?
People also need to understand that not all newborn animals will survive. Mortality in wildlife is high and that is part of the natural cycle.
If you see a young animal, admire it from a distance and then move on quietly. Talk to youngsters and others about this topic who might not be familiar with wildlife.
If you are concerned about an animal don’t touch it, but make a report to your local DOW office.