Best Practice When Encountering Wildlife Is To Leave It Alone

story by MITCH SAMAHA, LDWF Biologist

“Daddy, Daddy… Look what we found… Awe, isn’t it cute? Can we keep it?”

Ahhhh yes, the telltale sounds of compassion that children feel when a wild baby animal is found. Something about a seemingly helpless wild baby brings out the care-giver in us all. However, more times than not, we are interrupting the balance of nature’s grand plan, and in many cases, the baby animal pays the ultimate price.

It is difficult to explain to children why we can’t keep or care for wild babies. I have had many, many discussions with my own children about these consequences.

All of my efforts are met with the same response; “But….they are gonna DIE if we don’t save them! We HAVE to do SOMETHING!”

It’s inevitable. We live in Louisiana and wildlife is a part of our everyday life. Our neighborhoods have taken the place of prairies and forested habitats. We live along bayous, rivers and lakes so it’s no surprise that we will come into contact with young wildlife. So what do we do when our children come to us, their eyes hopeful and their compassion overflowing?

It’s important to understand how most wild animals treat their young. Many times the juveniles are left alone so that the parents can forage for food, returning later to warm and feed them. It is usually at this time that a well-intentioned human comes along, scoops them up and takes them away from their home….and straight into yours.

In many cases, you or your children have just kidnapped a wild baby animal.

Most of the young animals brought to wildlife rehabilitators don’t need to be rescued. Humans are poor surrogates for the real mothers and should only intervene if absolutely necessary. If you find a juvenile animal or bird don’t just assume it’s an orphan. If it is quietly resting and appears healthy, it is best to leave it alone.

Many mothers watch their babies from a distance, the original free range parenting. For example, deer and rabbit mothers leave their young alone for extended periods of time so they don’t attract predators to their defenseless offspring. Young birds don’t learn how to fly right away and can spend many hours, even days on the ground before getting it right so it’s best to leave them alone as well.

It is an old myth that a mother animal will reject her young if they have been handled by a human. Wild animal mothers will risk their own lives to save their babies and will not reject them based on human scent alone. In fact, bringing a juvenile wild animal home to your pets, loud noises, boisterous children and an unfamiliar place will cause great stress to the animal, sometimes sending them into a state of shock that can be fatal. So if after reading this you feel your children may have acted too quickly simply put the baby back exactly where you found it.

However, the baby may require attention if any of the following conditions apply: the presence of an obvious wound or injury such as a cat or dog bite; there are obvious external parasites; or the animal appears listless.

Never give a wild animal cow’s milk. They are unable to properly digest it and it can lead to bloating, diarrhea, further dehydration and death. If an animal is truly in need, confirm a licensed wildlife rehabilitator can intake the animal, place the animal inside a cardboard box with paper towels and, if necessary, a warm jug of water. Keep the box in a comfortable, dark location away from pets and loud noises.

Realize that all wild animals are illegal to rehabilitate in Louisiana and all other states unless you are a licensed wildlife rehabilitator. LDWF does not directly rehabilitate wildlife. Instead we train and maintain a network of dedicated volunteer wildlife rehabilitators. These rehabilitators’ facilities are inspected and permitted so that they may legally and properly house and care for injured or orphaned wildlife.

LDWF and most wildlife rehabilitators also do not provide transportation of injured or orphaned animals to facilities. As a result, you may be required to transport any animal you pick up to the rehabilitator.

Wildlife, especially mammals and birds, can transmit parasites and disease to humans and pets so if you end up handling them be sure to wash your hands and any clothing or linens that contact the animal.

Raccoons, for example, have a species of roundworm in their digestive tract that, if ingested, can be fatal to humans and other mammals. Additionally, all wildlife have defenses and at any time a young animal can choose to use them without warning if they feel threatened.

Wild animals and their babies are tough, resilient and able to survive far better than we can in the outdoors. If you do encounter juvenile wildlife in your backyard, observe them from a safe distance and do your best not to disturb them.

Use it as a teachable moment with your kids to discuss the wonders of nature and how quickly wild babies have to grow up in order to survive. Maybe they will even appreciate how easy they have it by comparison.


For more information on what to do if you encounter orphaned or injured wildlife, please visit our website at