Wild Animal Rescue: Do’s & Don’ts

That ‘abandoned’ baby animal may not be– and it definitely won’t make a ‘nice pet’

SWR and other wildlife rescue and rehabbing organizations exist because the caring and compassionate public responds to an animal in distress, rescues it and calls us for help.  We could not do what we do without the general public’s concern for the welfare of the animals, and we are eternally grateful to our rescuers. Often, however, well-meaning people don’t know exactly what to do when they find an animal in distress, or are unaware that a rescue organization is available to help them. The following “do’s and don’ts” may be helpful to rescuers.

If you find any baby animal that seems to have lost its mother, do not immediately pick it up.

Wait and watch at a distance for not more than 15 minutes to see if she returns to it. If you see a dead adult nearby, it may confirm that the baby is an orphan. The exceptions to this “wait and watch” policy are if the animal is very tiny (eyes closed, no fur), injured or in immediate danger — in a roadway, being stalked or chased by a cat, dog or another predator, or in other danger.   If so, you should immediately take in the animal and call SWR.

People sometimes inadvertently “kidnap” an animal when the mother is still around.

This often happens with fawns, whose mothers leave them for long periods to browse and to avoid attracting predators to them, but it can also happen with other species. Always call SWR to get an assessment of the situation from an experienced rehabber.  If reunion with the mother is possible, we will assist you. SWR has reunited numerous fawns, some baby squirrels, many young water fowl, and other animals with their mothers.

On the other hand, don’t assume that the mother is around and all is well.  If you’ve been watching and no mother appears in a short time, you can safely move a small animal, such as a young squirrel, rabbit or a songbird, out of harm’s way before you call SWR.  Small or young animals can be safely handled using light work gloves or a small blanket to gently place the animal in a box or pet carrier padded with soft cloths, like baby blankets or a folded t-shirt. Take it into your house, and call SWR for further instructions.  A rehabber will also make arrangements with you to take the animal (usually within the hour). For any injured larger species, rabies-vector or adult animal, try to keep it in sight and call SWR immediately.

If you find an orphaned or injured baby or adult animal, do not try to care for it yourself.

Once you have rescued an animal, please immediately call SWR or another rehabbing organization in your area. If you keep the animal, even if it seems to be doing well for a few days, or even weeks, most inexperienced people will do more harm than good in trying to care for it.  Wildlife rehabbers are trained in exactly how to care for each species, including giving immediate care, dealing with illnesses or injuries, proper housing and feeding and numerous other procedures. This training helps to ensure the most effective care of the animal until it can successfully cope on its own in the wild and be released.

Do not try keep a baby or adult wild animal, thinking it will make a “nice pet.”

First, it is illegal in California to keep any wild animal as a pet.  You may not even trap or transport it from your property unless you are a licensed rehabber or wildlife control business, or staff of a government agency dealing with wild animals.

Second, wild animals do not make good pets.  Young animals look and act adorable, and some species are fairly easy to handle when they are small.  But that sweet little squirrel baby you pick up, if it survives, will grow into a strong, feisty, wild adult and can be dangerous to you and your home. If caged, he will be miserable – wild animals want, more than anything, to be free – and he may become vicious. A squirrel has a formidable bite, using front teeth designed to strip bark and crush nuts, and strong, hooked claws that can do enormous damage to human skin (and your furnishings).  Even hand-raised as babies, any animal’s wild instincts will strengthen as they grow up, and you will become a “predator” in its mind – one to fight or to flee from.


You will attend classes, work closely with experienced rehabbers, acquire all necessary equipment, formulas and other supplies and be in a position to actually save an animal’s life.  Many of SWR’s rehabbers were originally rescuers who enjoyed the experience so much that they decided to learn to rehab.

In rescuing and rehabbing, wildlife rehabbers try not to harm the existing environment and to contribute to restoring the balance of nature. We understand that we cannot succeed in totally protecting and preserving the majority of wildlife species. But we believe that what we do does matter—“to the individual animal, to its family, to its species, to the ecosystem, and to the greater web of life.”   (A Rehabber’s Philosophy, Anonymous)

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