Michiganders come across injured animals like white-tailed deer, birds or rabbits regularly, in their backyard, on roadsides or in the woods.
As much as you want to help, experts say trying to help a wild animal may do more harm than good. Not only can improper care and handling of an animal can cause further harm, it can also result in injury to the human trying to help.
For the safety of the animal and human, only licensed wildlife rehabilitators are legally allowed to possess a wild animal in the state of Michigan. These wildlife rehabilitators will know how to best care for the animal in each specific situation.
Here’s what you should know if you encounter injured wildlife.
Should I help an injured animal?
Licensed wildlife rehabilitators have received training and certification on how to best handle wild animals, and know how to interact without causing harm to the animal or themselves.
Those who are not licensed wildlife rehabilitators should not attempt to handle a wild animal, according to a wildlife biologist and an expert in veterinary medicine. Risks to humans include disease transmission, bites, scratches and other bodily harm or trauma. In some cases, the animal that you’re trying to help may end up euthanized because of this bodily harm.
Incorrect care or handling can also lead to more harm to the injured animal. As an example, animals can be further injured if they are fed an inappropriate diet or not fed at the appropriate time for their species. Also, a human may approach a baby animal that appears abandoned. The human’s presence may scare away the mother, who sees the human as a predator. This could result in the baby animal being displaced.
“While we are empathetic and have a lot of different emotions and want to intervene, it can be more harmful than good,” said Cameron Dole, wildlife biologist for the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.
Knowing when a wild animal needs help
Often, people see a baby animal without its parents and think that it is abandoned or in need of help. However, baby animals are often left alone by their mother to avoid attracting predators. The baby will eventually be visited by its parents for care.
An animal that needs help is most likely one with an obvious injury, such as a broken wing or leg, according to Valerie Johnson, an emergency and critical care specialist at Michigan State University.
If an animal appears to need help, you should seek a licensed wildlife rehabilitator that will know how to best care for the animal.
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Reporting an injured animal
No matter what animal you come across, you should first contact a professional who can best advise you on your specific situation. Resources to contact include the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, Michigan State University’s Veterinary Medical Center and local wildlife rehabilitators.
Any of these organizations will be able to inform you of what to do when you encounter an injured wild animal, or direct you to another expert that will be able to help.
If the expert evaluates that the injured animal is in need of human assistance, a licensed wildlife rehabilitator will take in and care for the animal until its recovery.