Why Do Rehabilitated Animals Have Ear Tags?

A lot of people are uncomfortable when they see ear tags on the animals here at For Fox Sake. And, believe me, I understand why. Animals in rehabilitation are not pets or livestock; they are meant to return to the wild one day. And it would be horrible to cause unnecessary pain to an animal.

Here’s why every animal at For Fox Sake is ear tagged before release.

I do everything in my power to try to ensure that the animals here do not become habituated or tame. I want them to be independent and unfriendly— to go into the wild knowing that they are wild. However, despite my best efforts, there is a chance that one of the animals here will encounter a person one day.

That may happen when a raccoon decides to move into someone’s cozy, warm attic. Or when a fox starts nibbling the cat food on a suburban porch. Or when a skunk follows someone on a hiking trail, begging for food. Or when a raccoon wanders into one of the live-traps that the USDA uses for rabies surveillance.

An ear tag on a raccoon.

In all these situations, an ear tag would help trace the animal back to me. Whoever responds to the call for help would know that this animal has been vaccinated for rabies, which would help determine the appropriate course of action. It would also help me to know if there is something I am doing wrong, that might lead the animals to seek out humans, or if I’m releasing them too close to residential areas.

Another reason for ear tags is that they help to positively identify animals. I would love to think that I could never make a mistake and that I know every animal in my care by name and face. But, to be honest, I can’t entirely guarantee that I might not mix up two raccoon kits from the same litter who have similar markings. Ear tags help me know which animal is which so I can accurately record their medical history, location where they were found, weight, immunizations, and behavior.

Even if I personally did not think this was necessary, I also don’t have a choice in the matter. For the types of animals I care for, ear tagging is a state legal requirement, not a choice.

I sincerely appreciate the concerns of people who have questioned ear tags on wildlife. I understand your discomfort and I’m glad you care, but ear tags are a necessary part of life for the animals in my care.

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