Springtime, for many people, intuitively brings an awareness of renewal and life. The trees flower, the insects emerge, and of course baby wildlife is a wondrous sight. What can equal the rapture upon observing a baby deer take its first steps or a little bird learning to fly? People may come across baby animals in their backyards while clearing brush from last fall, when they begin to mow their lawns, or trimming trees and bushes. Sometimes, accidents happen and can leave wildlife injured or orphaned. Often, these people then want to then care for the animals and raise them. Although the intention is well-placed, most people do not have the information or resources to accomplish this properly and for the optimal health of the animals. This is where wildlife rehabilitators come in.
A wildlife rehabilitator is a person who has acquired the knowledge and permits, and understands the commitment involved in caring for an orphaned or injured animal. In Ohio, it is actually illegal to rear wildlife without a permit. This is for the protection of not only the wildlife, but also the people who wish to help. Wildlife can carry bacteria and viruses that are harmful to people; these types of illnesses are called zoonotic diseases. The wildlife rehabilitator would have gone through training to be able to identify the symptoms of such diseases and can take measures to protect oneself and provide the proper care for the animal.
Further, baby animals require highly specific diets vital to their growth and development. Cow’s milk from the store is not even a close substitute for most of the wildlife a person would come across. Just imagine the tiny bones of a squirrel and the functionality they provide that animal when dashing through the trees. The ingredients in cow milk are simply not suited for helping form those little skeletons. Likewise, feeding worms to a baby bird whose diet should consist of mostly seed is not only detrimental to its growth, but often fatal. An animal that is fed the wrong diet will quite frankly starve to death because it is not getting the nutrients required for its species. Wildlife rehabilitators have the permits, education, and experience to provide the proper care for an animal that needs help.
Conversely, many times a baby animal is found, it is not in need of human assistance. Many times the animal is healthy, but the parents are away finding food or deterring predators. No person educated or otherwise can provide the equivalent care that a mother can. It is always best to try to reunite with the parents before attempting to bring that animal into a captive environment. If the animal is injured or the parents are known to be dead, that of course would invite human help. When capturing an animal in need of assistance, personal safety should always be the priority. Animal will bite, no matter how cute they appear. Once the animal is captured, it should be placed in a dark, quiet place until it can be transported to the nearest wildlife rehabilitator, which should happen as soon as possible. The animal should not receive any food or water! Depending on the animal and what circumstances led to the need for assistance, this can be dangerous. An animal whose body temperature has dropped below normal, for example, can die if given food or water to try to digest in addition to trying to bring its temperature back up. This simply places too much stress on the body and it will shut down. The animal must be taken to the nearest wildlife rehabilitator as soon as possible to legally receive the proper diet and medical care.
Why would the Greater Cleveland Aquarium, which has fish, care about local wildlife, you may ask. The Greater Cleveland Aquarium, as a conservation organization, takes an interest in this topic because it is a conservation and stewardship issue. GCA has some animals in its care that were rescues and required a permanent home. We strive to provide the best care for the animals for which we are responsible, and wish to see the same for any species. Remember to find a licensed wildlife rehabilitator if you come across an animal in need. Please do not attempt to raise the animal on your own. It is difficult, not to mention illegal, to do so.