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.
We’ve gotten several calls in the last few months about foxes that appeared “too thin” and “sickly.” While a few of them were sick with mange— which is marked bu bald patches of skin with scabs and crust— most were actually perfectly healthy!
Foxes are built like whippets. They have very long legs and lean bodies. Most foxes that you see on TV and in photographs look plump because of their thick fur coats, which hide their natural thinness.
Here in Tennessee, a typical fox doesn’t have a very thick coat, especially in summer, so its lanky build becomes much more apparent. It’s understandable to be concerned, but these “skinny” foxes are just fine!
This fellow, named Mylo, is a rescued fox living here in East Tennessee with our friends at Exotic Pet Wonderland. Despite looking very skinny, he is quite healthy and receives a diet richer in fat and calories than his wild counterparts. As you can see, it would be easy to think he was underweight if you didn’t know that this is normal for foxes!
You can generally tell if a fox is actually emaciated if you know what to look for. Foxes that are actually starving tend to be out in daylight and may be confused. They may be less fearful of humans or too weak to run away quickly. Their ribs may be visible and their spines may noticeably protrude from their backs. If you see these signs, please get in touch with a rehabilitator.
Thank you all for looking out for our native wildlife!
Most collisions between cars and deer happen in October through December, when deer are on the move more, and when their minds are clouded by hormones as they seek mates. Please do your part to keep deer safe from accident, and to protect yourself and your passengers at the same time!
Be mindful that deer are most active at dawn and dusk. During those times, it is particularly important to drive slowly and cautiously. Nobody likes to go slow on this big, open country roads, but slowing down is the singular most important way to avoid a collision.
Keep an eye on the sides of the roads, not just the road itself. We’re all prone to “road hypnosis” where we start zoning out looking at those white lines, but stay mindful of your surroundings. That will prevent you from hitting not only deer, but also other animals.
Don’t throw food waste into the road, ever! Deer and other animals are sometimes drawn to roads by waste like apple cores, peanut shells, and salty fast food wrappers. Spread the words out this very important step that we we can all take to prevent animals from getting killed on roadways.
If you do have a deer cross your path and can’t brake fast enough to avoid it, resist that knee-jerk urge to swerve. As terrible as it would be to collide with a deer, you will likely have a much more serious accident— quite possibly including human deaths— if you instead hit another vehicle head-on.
Call your local game wardens or police if you have struck a deer, even if the deer is already dead and can’t be treated. You may need a police report to file an insurance claim, even if you don’t yet know if any damage to your vehicle. Your local authorities need to be notified about deer that have already passed away, so they can be safely removed from the road before drawing scavengers into the road.
Here’s the hardest part for us, as wildlife rehabilitators, and for the general public, but it needs to be mentioned. If authorities determine that the deer needs to be euthanized after a car collision, they may choose to use a gunshot to the head as the method for euthanasia. We understand that this very upsetting to see, but please don’t interfere or try to stop it from happening. Adult deer hit by cars can almost never be successfully rehabilitated, and leaving them to suffer— even for the time it takes to transport them to a vet— can be extremely cruel. Please understand that even an “ugly” form of euthanasia is sometimes the kind and compassionate thing to do.
As always, though, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Please watch for wildlife so you can avoid tragedy this fall!
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!