Venomous snakes aren’t bad or evil. Like all other animals, they have an important role to play in our ecosystem. Among other things, snakes help to control populations of rats and mice. This in turn helps reduce the incidence of diseases these rodents might carry.
Nevertheless, you probably don’t want venomous snakes living too close to your house. While fatal bites are extremely rare, they do happen occasionally. This is one of the many reasons that bobcats can be useful neighbors to have around!
Bobcats are some of nature’s most fearless predators, making them one of the few native creatures bold enough to kill and eat venomous snakes. And bobcats are even less likely than venomous snakes to harm humans. No human has ever died of a bobcat attack! Letting your bobcat neighbor stick around is one of many ways you can keep your family (and your neighborhood ecosystem) safe and healthy for all.
You’ve likely seen— and possibly even shared— those cute viral photos and videos of domestic cats raising wild animals. Stories of cats raising wild animals are always adorable and heartwarming, but the sad truth is that most of these stories are fake, and most attempts to recreate them end in tragedy.
Take, for example, the well-known photo series of a cat “raising” a baby opossum. Opossums can’t suckle— its biologically impossible for them to do so. One photo shows the joey posed against the cat’s belly, at an angle that obscures that it isn’t actually attached. Another shows the joey clearly posed on the cat, with claims that it was clinging to her, at an age when joeys can’t naturally grip.
That particular viral photo series led to many people joining wildlife care groups asking for help because they had given an orphan opossum to a mother cat and the plan wasn’t working. In all these cases, the joeys died but could have been saved if they had been brought to rehabilitators quickly.
Another reason that you should never give a cat a wild baby animal is that cats, no matter how nurturing and loving, are still predators. Baby wild animals naturally fear them and their sounds and smells, and are very susceptible to stress-related death. A cat’s saliva is also easily tolerated by her kittens, but contains bacteria that can be fatal to baby wild animals (even without visible puncture wounds).
Your cat isn’t a wildlife rehabilitator. Please contact a professional for help if you’ve found an orphaned or injured wild animal in need of assistance. (And please stay and neuter your pets!)
Even the very best rehabilitators can’t care for baby birds as well as the their natural parents, so we always make it a priority to keep baby animals with their families whenever possible.
Unfortunately, some baby birds end up in rehabilitation because well-meaning people kidnap them. It’s not uncommon for someone to find a dead bird and then bring a nest or babies to a rehabber, thinking the babies have been orphaned. Please don’t do this!
It’s very difficult to identify baby birds, even for experts, so the odds of taking a nest belonging to another species entirely are high. Even if you’re completely certain the nest you’ve found is the same species as the dead adult, they could still be from different families.
If you’re 100% certain the nest belongs to the individual bird you’ve found dead, it’s still best not to bring the babies to a rehabilitator (yet, at least!). Most baby birds are raised by both parents, and if one parent dies, the other will usually do just fine on their own.
If you’re able, you can watch the nest to make sure the other parent is coming by, or can send photos to your local rehabilitators, who may be able to look for signs of dehydration and hunger. It’s pretty easy to tell with baby birds, because their crops, where recently eaten food sits, are very visible! If the babies are true orphans, bringing them to a rehabilitator may be the correct step, but please don’t take them from the nest without being instructed to do so!
The calls come several times a day. Angry and gruff and terse.
“I have raccoons in my attic and need you to come and get them.”
“A fox got my chickens. Come get it or I’ll kill it.”
“I heard a coyote. Either you come remove it or I’ll put a bullet in it.”
We’re busy saving animals’ lives, 24 hours a day and 7 days a week, and we simply don’t have time to return to all these calls— particularly since they often involve verbal abuse and threats from the callers.
Wildlife rehabilitators are rescues for orphaned and injured animals— not pest control services. We can’t and don’t have the resources to act a free wildlife removal company, whether you threaten or yell at us or not. It is simply not part of our work.
Wild animals almost never survive being “removed.” In Tennessee, many species must be either released on the site where they were found or simply killed. Those that are taken elsewhere die slow, painful deaths by starvation and exposure when stolen from their familiar homes and hunting grounds without their families.
The only humane, effective way to remove unwanted wild animals from your property is to repel and exclude them. Bright lights, loud sounds, and strong smells will convince even the most stubborn animals to find alternative dens, and to take their young with them. Professionals can then help you close any entrance points where the critters managed to get in, so no other wildlife takes advantage of the free real estate.
Please don’t demand that wildlife rehabilitators take animals off your property. We’re here to help animals and to help you peacefully coexist with them, not to take them away from their homes because you find them inconvenient.
We get tons of messages from people asking us for advice on treating wild animals with mange. It’s wonderful that so many people care! Mange is extremely common in wildlife, particularly foxes and coyotes, and rates have skyrocketed in recent years due to human causes. When left untreated, mange causes infections, starvation, hypothermia, and eventually death. It’s awful!
At least one wildlife rehabilitation organization offers a “mange by mail” program that sends potent medication for people to give to wildlife themselves. This program (and similar ones) may be an option if you have no other resources available in your area, but we don’t generally recommend treating wildlife yourself in any way.
The medications used to treat mange area ideally given based on the animal’s weight, and this is impossible to achieve without weighing the animal and giving it the medication directly. A dose intended for a coyote guesstimated to weigh 40 poundscould easily be fatal to the two-pound raccoon kit who takes the bait instead. There is no way to guarantee that medicated bait left outside will go to the correct animal.
In many cases, a dose or two of medication simply won’t be enough to save the animal, even if the correct critter eats the food. Animals with severe mange almost always have secondary infections, are underweight, and have trouble regulating their body temperatures. If a critter with a bad case of mange doesn’t get help with these problems, it may die even after the mange mites themselves are dead. It’s also important to note that the animal might immediately return to a mange-infested den if it isn’t brought elsewhere.
The best thing to do for a wild animal with severe mange is to contact your local wildlife rehabilitators and, if possible, humanely trap and transport the critter to the professionals who are equipped to care for it. If no rehabilitators in your area are treating patients with mange, this may complicate matters, but they will be able to advise you further on the next steps.
We love flying squirrels! Because these cuties are nocturnal and aren’t very common in cities and suburbs, many people don’t even realize that they live right here in Tennessee!
We’re actually blessed with not one, but two flying squirrel species. The most common in the state is the Southern flying squirrel, which, as its name suggests, is a resident through much of the Southern U.S and can tolerate warm weather.
The mountainous Eastern part of the state is also home to a small population of Northern flying squirrels, and they really have an amazing history! During the last ice age, the entire Southeast was so chilly that these cold-weather critters were right at home throughout the region. As the glaciers retreated and the South warmed, Northern flying squirrels fled to chilly mountaintops in order to survive in the South.
The Northern flying squirrels living in the mountains of East Tennessee and North Carolina are called Carolina flying squirrels. They’re completely distinct from their Southern cousins and the two can’t breed since their bacula (penis bones) are shaped differently.
Both of Tennessee’s flying squirrel subspecies are facing serious threats. As habitat loss and climate change threaten the landscape, both of these adorable creatures are losing safe grounds for living and breeding. If you’re lucky enough to have flying squirrels living on your land, please treat them kindly! Keep your cats indoors and consider installing nesting boxes to help them find safe places to raise their young.
Have you ever seen a human toddler in their first days on their feet? They stumble, waddle, and often fall… but it doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong or that they don’t have parents looking out for them. The awkward first days of toddling are just part of how humans learn and grow.
That’s how it is for fledglings— baby birds who have just left the nest. Like human toddlers, they’re unsteady and clumsy, and this leads many well-meaning people to think they’re orphans or that they have fallen out of the nest prematurely. In reality, fledglings are still under their parents’ care and they’re doing just fine, even if they aren’t flying very well yet.
If you see a baby bird on the ground that you think is an orphan, take a close look. If it has lots of feathers and is able to hop and flap its wings, leave it exactly where you found it. If it can’t hop, appears injured, or has very few feathers, contact a wildlife rehabilitator for the next steps.
You may be tempted to take a fledgling to a rehabilitator, or even to try to raise it yourself, just to be on the safe side. Please don’t! A baby bird’s best chance of survival is always with its natural parents. You can help make sure the fledgling survives this difficult stage by keeping your pets indoors or leashed for the next few days.
Rodents aren’t the only ones who suffer from rodent poisoning! Predators like owls, foxes, hawks—and even pet cats and dogs— can become poisoned when they eat animals that are sick or dead from poison.
For bobcats, secondary poisoning can have a strange effect. A bobcat who eats poisoned rats and mice will suffer from constant inflammation throughout the body, sending its entire immune system into chaos.
When a bobcat’s immune system is compromised by rat poison, its body will often become severely infested by a form of mite that causes notoedric mange. Notoedric mange is closely related to the types of mange you’ve likely seen in dogs, and it can get out of control once it takes over a bobcat’s body. A bobcat suffering from a severe case is very likely to die of infections or hypothermia.
Please choose kinder options to control rodents! Snap traps are both humane and effective when used correctly, and don’t risk causing secondary harm to the predators around you.
A lot of people find bats creepy. There are a lot of reasons for this, such as their mythical association with vampires and ghouls. One thing that makes people nervous about bats is that their faces often look menacing and aggressive, like they’re threatening to bite.
But this weird grimace isn’t what you think. When a bat is using echolocation— its primary means if finding bugs to eat— it has to open its mouth to emit sound waves and to interpret those sound waves correctly when they bounce back to its ears.
In tighter spaces, they open their mouths wider so they can focus their sound beams more effectively, so a bat photographed in captivity will almost always have a wide, gaping mouth.
Remember most animals don’t express themselves the same way we do. Don’t let facial expressions get lost in translation. Bats mean you no harm!
People who find cottontail rabbit babies often describe them as calm, comfortable, friendly, and sweet. All too often, wildlife rehabilitators receive photos of baby rabbits snuggled in hands, pockets, and bras, with enthusiastic stories about how much they love to be held. These stories almost always end in tragedy, when the babies die of stress.
Animals don’t always communicate that they’re upset in the same way we do. Prey animals like rabbits don’t usually show fear by screaming or crying or biting, but by simply freezing in place and hoping to be left alone. This is easily mistaken for calmness by well-meaning people.
If you find a baby wild animal that appears to need help, don’t handle it any more than is absolutely necessary to transport the animal to a qualified rehabilitator. Otherwise, you risk causing serious harm through your good intentions.
You have a whole magical world living right under your feet! Please help protect it. Salamanders and other amphibians are facing a serious crisis as their populations plummet all over the world. You can take very simple steps to make sure your own salamander neighbors are safe.
This time of year, most salamanders are in a natural state of hibernation under soil and leaf litter, especially in flower beds and urban gardens. Amphibians have permeable skin and absorb anything they come into contact with, so they’re extremely susceptible to the effects of pesticides and fertilizers.
If you prepare your lawn for spring with an influx of chemicals, the salamanders in your soil will either die of poisoning fairly quickly, or will wake up and flee above-ground. There, they’ll be susceptible to starvation and hypothermia before spring arrives— a phenomenon known as “winter kill.” Please don’t contribute to this problem!