Hiking Hoosiers, backyard birdwatchers, farmers and anyone else who spots sick or injured wildlife can reach out to local rehabilitation clinics for help, but there are a few things to know before picking up the phone — or an animal.
There are 59 permitted wildlife rehabilitators in Indiana who work toward the goal of helping sick or injured animals recover so the can be released back to the wild. A full list, on the Department of Natural Resources web site, has contact information for each local rehab, so check there to find the one closest to you.
Here is a quick list of things to consider when reporting tips according to local Indiana rehabbers.
Single infants may not be abandoned
This tops the list of many rehabbers’ warnings, and DNR also notes that seemingly abandoned animals are most likely still under the care of adults.
Adults may be out gathering food and may not return if a person is nearby the young, DNR’s website says. Human scent can alert predators that young prey may be near. It can also be disruptive to the reproductive cycle to remove young from nests, so it’s best to observe from a distance and call a rehabber before attempting any sort of rescue.
The US Fish and Wildlife Service warms 90% of animals taken from the wild will not survive and recommends action if the following is observed:
- The animal is obviously injured, is bleeding or has a broken bone
- It’s covered in fly eggs
- It’s been crying for more than a day
- It looks weak and is lying on its side
- A pet or another animal attacked it
Let the professionals take the lead
The dietary needs of each animal can differ greatly, and professionals have specific training to know what foods are appropriate for which animal.
WildCare rehabilitators in Bloomington warn that no wild animal should be given cow’s milk as the lactose can be fatal to most infant animals. The rehab’s website says much of the wildlife brought into the clinic has been harmed by improper captive care.
To increase the chances of survival, specific housing, handling and dietary needs must be met for each animal.
Keep the animal where it is, if possible
First and foremost, wildlife can have disease-carrying pests or parasites. It’s important to bring your pets inside and not use bare hands if picking up the sick or injured animal is unavoidable.
Animals will not reject their young if they sense humans have handled it, but picking wildlife up is stressful for them and should be kept to a minimum. Call a rehabber before attempting to pick up or move an animal.
If an animal must be handled WildCare recommends keeping it in a warm, quiet area preferably in a box lined with towels, pillowcases, t-shirts or tissue paper.
Report unknown illness or death
While DNR does not provide any rehabilitation services, it does collect and track information online about wildlife that appears to be sick or dead without an apparent cause.
To keep humans, livestock and habitat safe, state officials need to be aware of any emerging disease outbreaks. The department tracks these through an online reporting tool:
Researchers are interested in recurring deaths in the same location, individual deer with signs of chronic wasting disease (emaciation, staggering or standing with poor posture, salivating excessively), individual deer with signs of Epizootic Hemorrhagic Disease (death in or near water, loss of appetite and wariness, swelling around the head and neck, rosy or bluish color of mouth and tongue ) and incidents involved threatened or endangered species.
Do not keep wildlife as pets
Wildlife is meant to be wild, and if a young animal becomes habituated to humans it cannot be reintroduced into the wild. Animals are also active and independent and could become destructive as they grow older.
It’s illegal in Indiana to keep native wildlife without a permit for any reason. Most native species are protected under state and federal laws.
Karl Schneider is an IndyStar environment reporter. You can reach him at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @karlstartswithk
IndyStar’s environmental reporting project is made possible through the generous support of the nonprofit Nina Mason Pulliam Charitable Trust.