Original article posted July 31, 2016 in the Toledo Blade - Alexandra Mester
There is a reason the various critters scampering around outside are called wildlife.
“If they are born wild, they need to stay wild,” said Mike Ohlrich, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources wildlife officer assigned to Lucas County. “They are designed to be there, and they survive and thrive that way. That’s how they were made to live.”
Recent Midwestern cases of deer taken from their natural environment have generated strong reactions from the public. Illinois officials have allowed a couple to keep two deer they say they rescued several years ago, while a Michigan woman who removed four fawns from their habitat and allegedly gave them away was charged and fined.
Taking a wild animal and attempting to domesticate it is prohibited in both Ohio and Michigan. Doing so can result in criminal charges.
“It is illegal to go and pick up a wild animal and keep it as a pet, period. You cannot do that,” said Hannah Schauer, a wildlife education technician with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources. “Wildlife belongs in the wild. That’s the best place for them.”
Young animals sometimes are taken from their natural homes when well-meaning people think they are abandoned. Mr. Ohlrich said some species, like deer and rabbits, leave their young alone for hours at a time as part of their survival technique.
“People sometimes assume that these animals need help, sometimes just because they exist,” Mr. Ohlrich said.
“Most of the problems or issues that we deal with are usually from people who have good intentions, but aren’t sure how to handle things and just don’t know.”
Nature’s Nursery Center for Wildlife Rehabilitation and Conservation Education near Whitehouse receives hundreds of calls a week from residents seeking help with wildlife during the spring and summer, and takes in an average of about 2,500 animals a year.
“The first three things we tell people are, ‘Put it back. Put it back. Put it back,’ ” Steven Kiessling, executive director, said. “A good many of them, when they put it back, mom will come.”
A woman in Montcalm County, Mich., was fined $575 recently after she removed four fawns from the woods in May, taking selfies with them, and allegedly giving them away. Her posts on social media and news coverage of the case prompted the public’s intense scorn of her actions.
The Michigan DNR was able to release one fawn and place two others with a rehabilitation center, but the fourth one died.
Mr. Ohlrich said orphaned fawns are rare. They are born with little scent, so the mother will hide them and leave them alone for long periods of time to avoid attracting predators with her own scent.
“In my seven-year career, I’ve seen only a handful of truly orphaned fawns,” he said. “It’s not a terribly common occurrence.”
By contrast, an Illinois couple received an outpouring of public support when the state Department of Natural Resources planned to remove two bucks they had raised from fawns. One of the deer was found next to his dead mother, the other was reportedly abandoned. More than 140,000 people signed an online petition demanding the deer be allowed to stay with Rhonda and Danny Crawford, and more than $2,400 was raised through an online fund-raiser.
The Crawfords had obtained a permit to keep captive deer, but it did not cover deer obtained from the wild. The state ultimately decided earlier this month to allow the pet bucks to stay, provided the couple never moves them from the property and never obtains more deer from the wild. The state will reportedly change language on the permit to make it clear that it does not cover wild deer.
“There are ways to legally obtain a raccoon or a deer or a fox as a pet,” Mr. Ohlrich said. “It has to be from a licensed captive breeder, not from the wild.”
If an animal is injured or truly abandoned, a licensed facility like Nature’s Nursery is the only option. People should not attempt to rehabilitate the animal themselves.
“For someone who isn’t educated and doesn’t have the experience and training background, their chances of success are far lower than ours,” Mr. Kiessling said. “Wildlife are definitely resilient. If not, they become part of the food chain and that’s what it’s about. It’s the natural order of things. That’s hard for people to get sometimes.”
Taking animals out of the wild poses a significant risk to people. The animals can not only bite and scratch, but can pass along any number of potentially dangerous diseases and parasites to people or their pets.
“For animals like raccoons, foxes, bats, and coyotes, only our staff and volunteers who have rabies shots can even work with them,” Mr. Kiessling said.
Mrs. Schauer noted that rehabilitators also handle animals very carefully to lessen the possibility that they become habituated to people.
“Their main objective is to get the animal back to the wild,” she said. “If you’re removing its wild instincts and habituating it to people, it likely won’t survive if released or becomes a nuisance animal and a safety issue.”
Those animals that can’t be released for whatever reason either can become education animals like those at Nature’s Nursery or have to be euthanized.
“It’s really for human safety,” Mrs. Schauer said. “It’s really in the best interest of the animal, too.”
Residents who are concerned about an injured or possibly abandoned animal should always call a rehabilitation center or the DNR before touching it.
“Keep a close eye on it, but leave it out there and watch the situation,” Mr. Ohlrich said. “Then get in touch with Nature’s Nursery or the wildlife office and talk to someone who might better understand and go from there.”
Ohio resources for injured or abandoned wildlife are available through the DNR online at wildohio.gov/taywild or by calling 800-945-3543. Nature’s Nursery can be reached at 419-877-0060. Michigan residents can visit michigan.gov/nr or call 517-284-9453.