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 get an alarming number of calls this time of year with variations of this story: “I found a baby deer by itself. I went to the feed store and got all the stuff to take care of it. It’s been living in my house for two weeks. Now it’s weak. I think it’s dying. What did I do wrong?”
Sometimes we have to take a deep breath to avoid blurting out, “Absolutely everything.”
Most fawns found unattended are not orphans. Their mothers leave them, often for twelve hours or more, while looking for the food and water they need to produce milk and recover from giving birth.
When taken into human homes, there are two major killers of fawns: stress and malnutrition. Fawns are at a very high-risk of a bizarre disease called capture myopathy. When they’re constantly being seen and touched by predators (like us and our pets) they simply die.
While we love retail workers and agriculture experts— truly!— the advice people usually get from feed stores tends to be massively incorrect. Whitetail deer milk isn’t at all similar to the formulas sold to replace the milk of goats, sheep, or cattle. Without the right balance of fats, sugars, proteins, vitamins, and minerals, many fawns fail to thrive and pass away.
Then there’s another issue— one of safety. If you raise a fawn as a member of your family, what happens next? A deer that has never met other deer will often believe itself to be human. That may sound cute, but the “cute” disappears during rut, when a male will see his human family as mates or competition and a female will attract an entire cast of competitive males who may go to lengths like jumping fences, attacking your pets, and charging into neighborhood traffic.
And if “I’ll just let it go when it’s older” sounds like a good plan, please consider where that will lead. Deer that have imprinted on humans will naturally gravitate right back to humans. They will approach anyone they see— including hunters— and may be unable to find food, rejected by wild herds, and unable to find mates or raise their young because they were never taught how to be deer.
None of this is the fault of deer raised improperly. They deserve to be allowed to live with their own families in the natural world, and when that’s not possible, they deserve to be in the care of competent rehabilitators.
Here in Tennessee, if you have found a fawn and you are certain that it is an orphan, please contact Walden’s Puddle (in Joelton, Middle Tennessee) or Little Ponderosa (in Clinton, East Tennessee) to arrange to get the little one to safety. Please do the right thing. Don’t risk the fawn’s safety or your own.
We know this is weird. When you call 911 about an injured person, they send paramedics. When you call animal control about an injured stray dog, they send an officer. When you call a wildlife rehabilitator about an injured animal, they… ask you to capture it and bring it to them. Yes, seriously!
The reason ultimately comes down to funding, or rather, a lack thereof. When you call a rehabilitator, you’re likely picturing a huge, zoo-like rescue with on-site surgical suites, dozens of paid workers, and a fleet marked vehicles they can send out to save any animal in need. Only two or three rehabilitation facilities in the entire country even come close to that. Most— including For Fox Sake— are run by one or two extremely busy, extremely tired people operating out of facilities built, literally, in our backyards.
Out of the hundreds of wildlife rehabilitation facilities in the country, only about 5% have any paid staff members at all, and most of those staff members are directors responsible for overseeing animal care, and are unable to leave their patients. During baby season, when we may be bottle-feeding dozens of animals and have many more in critical condition, leaving them unattended to drive across the state simply isn’t an option.
While a few rehabilitation facilities are lucky enough to have volunteers who can answer last-minute requests for transportation help, no rehabilitation facility we’re aware of that has paid staff members are able to set traps, checking traps every few hours, or transporting wild animals from Point A to Point B.
When an animal needs help, most rehabilitators simply have no choice but to enlist the help of the public. And yes, unfortunately, that might mean that we ask you to put on a pair of gardening gloves and pick up the baby skunk and put it in your car. Or to put the baby bird on your seatwarmer on the way here. Or to put the snake in a pillow case, and yes, we do understand you might be creeped out by snakes.
We know it’s nuts. But we don’t have a lot of other options, and we depend on everyday people like you to be the heroes the animals need until they make it to us safely. Please cooperate with your local rehabilitators to transport orphaned and injured animals. We’re all doing our best, but each of us has only two hands and 24 hours in each day!
This is a question we hear a lot, and it’s fair enough. After all, animals don’t get vaccines in the wild.
We like to put it this way: imagine a pandemic that is nearly 100% fatal and is as contagious as the common cold. Imagine it is contagious for about a week before the person has symptoms.
Now imagine that dozens of people from all over the world, most of whom have weakened immune systems due to stress and injury, are together in one place.
If there was a safe and effective vaccine, wouldn’t you want everyone there to have it?
That’s the situation we deal with in wildlife. Although we vaccinate for many different diseases, the most important vaccine our patients receive is for canine distemper. Canine distemper is extremely common in skunks, foxes, and raccoons in East Tennessee and is horrific for every animal that gets it.
Distemper usually starts with cold-like symptoms but eventually ravages the central nervous system, causing paralysis, panic, blindness, seizures, difficulty swallowing, and a slow, agonizing death. It is effectively completely untreatable in wildlife once symptoms start, because the extreme few that survive it are contagious for months and have permanent, painful disabilities as a result.
We have had many patients arrive with distemper that wasn’t identified— or didn’t have full symptoms— until a day or two after intake. That means that even when screening our patients carefully, a few animals come to us while actively highly contagious.
While we take many precautions to prevent the spread of disease and don’t use vaccines as a substitute for hand-washing, quarantine, and common sense, something as simple as stepping in a spot where an infected animal peed and then walking into another pen can spread distemper. We believe that vaccines are an important part of disease prevention for when other steps might fail.
While canine distemper is the deadliest and most contagious virus we prevent through immunizations, it isn’t the only one. All of our patients are also vaccinated against rabies, canine parvovirus, and panleukopenia. We’re proud to say that we have not had a single animal acquire any contagious illness while in our care since we adopted our current, strict, multidose vaccine regimen in fall of 2019.
We’ve heard a lot of concerns about the safety of vaccines for wildlife, but we have to date never seen a serious adverse reaction. For skunks, mink, grey foxes, and other species that can’t handle live canine vaccines, we use specialized inactivated vaccines that confer immunity to disease without any risk that the animal might get sick from the vaccine itself. The worst reactions we’ve seen have been low fevers and a day or two of loose stool.
There’s another reason for our adherence to our vaccine schedule. We adhere to the One Health view shared by the Centers for Disease Control and World Health Organization: that our health, as humans, depends on the wellness of the world around us and the health of the wild neighbors who share our planet. We believe it is our duty as rehabilitators to send our “graduates” into the natural world healthy and equipped to manage the diseases that can destroy wildlife, pets, livestock, and people. We all share a world with wildlife, and we want it to be a healthy one.
Wild animals are beautiful, majestic, important, sentient, and, sometimes, really freaking gross. So let’s talk about one of the most horrifying examples of what can happen when you don’t give wild animals the space and respect they deserve: brain worms!
70-90% of raccoons carry a roundworm in their guts called Baylisascaris procyonis, but that’s a mouthful, so most rehabbers and vets just call it “Baylis,” “raccoon roundworm,” or, “that brain worm none of us want.” Baylis is completely harmless in raccoons, but when humans ingest the eggs of this parasite, it actually migrates out of the digestive system and infects other parts of our bodies, including our brains.
A brain full of roundworms is every bit as bad as it sounds. It can cause paralysis, mental deterioration, pain, and death. Even the most prompt and aggressive treatments for Baylis usually leave sufferers with long-term disabilities.
This isn’t a reason to hate, fear, or harm raccoons. All living organisms, including humans and our pets, are capable of hosting and spreading diseases, and your odds of getting sick from simply living near a raccoon are near zero. However, you’re at risk for Baylis (and many other diseases!) if you hunt, trap, or handle raccoons, if you bring a raccoon into your home as a pet, or if you feed raccoons and encourage them to unnaturally overpopulate an area and use your yard as a latrine (communal toilet).
Everyone would like to think that they’re too hygiene-savvy for this to happen to themselves, but case reports show that it’s easier to accidentally ingest raccoon poo than you might think. One particularly tragic case of Baylis involved a toddler who contracted the parasite after handling pelts that his father— a hunter— had left in the garage. Almost any pet owner is also at risk for at least occasionally coming into contact with poop without immediately washing their hands.
Baylisascaris procyonis is one of many reasons that you’ll never see us handling raccoons bare-handed. Close contact with wild animals always involves some amount of risk, and we feel we have a responsibility to stay safe and to promote public awareness of the dangers of handling wild animals.
Again, please don’t harm raccoons simply for being raccoons. Your poop is full of yucky germs, too! But do respect that raccoons and other native animals can cause disease if you don’t exercise healthy caution and respect toward them and their habitats.
We ❤️ armadillos, especially our current nine-banded armadillo patient, Myron! Here are some especially cool and weird facts about these especially cool and weird animals.
Armadillos have some of the largest penises, in proportion to their body size, of any mammal. Their penises are about 30-60% of their total body length. That’s the equivalent of an average human man being endowed with 20-40 inches.
Despite their appearance, armadillos aren’t closely related to pangolins, aardvarks, or opossums. Their closest living relatives are anteaters and sloths.
Armadillos can hold their breath for an average of 6 minutes. This is an adaptation to enable them to survive being underground in muddy and flooded burrows.
Nine-banded armadillos first came to the U.S. around 1900, using their breath-holding skills to cross the Rio Grande. They have thrived here due to climate change and the loss of large predators.
Armadillos have two methods of swimming: they can inhale and float or exhale and walk along a river bottom.
An armadillo can eat up to 40,000 fire ants in one feeding, making them excellent neighbors to have around.
An armadillo always gives birth to exactly four identical young. After an egg is fertilized, the female stores it until an ideal time for it to begin growing. The egg then splits into four embryos, which develop into well-developed young before birth.
Armadillos have a naturally low body temperature of just 93 degrees Fahrenheit, compared to most other mammals, which have an average body temperatures of about 101 degrees.
The Aztec word for an armadillo literally translates to “turtle rabbit,” while the English and Spanish term means “little armored one.”
Please, please stop relocating wildlife. Arya’s mother’s story is one of many that we hope will convince people to stop moving wild animals around.
Arya came to us a couple of weeks ago after her mother had been “humanely relocated” after ending up in someone’s attic. Within two days of admission, she began to develop seizures and difficulty swallowing. These are symptoms of central nervous system infections, usually either rabies or canine distemper. Arya must have been exposed to one of these viruses through her mother.
Distemper— the most common and likely cause— is extremely contagious. It is spread through any exposure to an animal’s pee, poop, or respiratory secretions, or can be spread to predators via their prey. We can nearly guarantee that, when Arya’s mother was relocated, she introduced distemper to a new area. She was suffering and sick while also confused and grief-stricken from suddenly losing her baby.
Skunks, foxes, and raccoons who did something as simple as sniffing her pee became infected. They spread it to their own young. If Arya’s mother was “lucky,” her distemper made her easy prey for a coyote, who then caught the infection and passed it to a mate and pups. If she was particularly unlucky, she died a very slow and painful death, and was then scavenged by a variety of animals, all of which became infected.
In other words, the people who relocated Arya’s mother made her Patient Zero for a wildlife epidemic. If she had simply been humanely excluded from the attic, she would have stayed in the same area where she was originally found. Given that she was in a populated suburban area, someone might have even noticed that she was sick and arranged for her and Arya to be humanely euthanized so they wouldn’t have suffered or spread the illness to other animals.
We did the only correct thing for Arya and made sure she had a comfortable journey to the Rainbow Bridge, and she will be tested for rabies as a precaution. We also take many steps to quarantine our patients so we feel confident that she could not have passed her disease to any other animals in our care. Still, we wish this had never happened and we feel heartbroken knowing that dozens of other animals are suffering a much worse fate because of someone choosing to relocate a sick raccoon.
Please choose humane exclusion and eviction. Relocating wildlife spreads disease, creates orphans, and leaves animals traumatized, hungry, and confused. Let’s all do better for our wild neighbors.
Coyotes are frequently killed out of a cruel and misguided attempt to protect pet cats. This is unfair not only to the mother and father coyotes, but also to their pups who get left behind. How can any cat owner say they care about animals if they would sentence puppies to such a horrible, scary death?
While cats aren’t a natural part of a coyote’s diet, any mother or father will accept the meals they can find. We can’t expect to put easy meals in a coyote’s home without the coyote accepting the offer. Coyotes are driven by the instinct to feed themselves and their families and don’t have any way to know that your cat is off-limits.
It is a pet owner’s job to properly contain their pets. Free-roaming outdoor cats are at a high risk of suffering premature deaths from factors like cars, dogs, disease, and fights with other cats. Even if you take it upon yourself to kill every coyote you see, other coyotes will simply claim the empty territory, putting you in a never-ending and futile cycle of violence against wildlife.
Please don’t harm predators for doing what comes naturally to them. It hurts the adults you kill and the babies they leave behind, and it does no good in protecting your pets. If you want your cats to be safe, keep them indoors or in a predator-proof outdoor enclosure.
When an animal is truly an orphan, that’s almost always a good reason to bring it to a rehabilitator. But please be careful to make sure that you aren’t kidnapping babies who still have a parent caring for them! Many baby animals are taken from the wild because an adult was found dead nearby. Often, the adult isn’t the mother or the animal would do fine raised by a single dad!
For some species, like rabbits or squirrels, dozens of adults can frequent the same yard, so a dead adult is likely to be unrelated to the babies you’ve found, even if it’s on the same property. A rehabilitator can help you determine whether the babies you’ve found appear well-fed 12-24 hours after the adult is found. If you’re able, you can also check the adult’s body for lactating teats to determine if it was a mother at all.
Other animals sometimes thrive when a widower raises his young alone. Most birds raise their children together, and a father will continue caring for his young after losing his mate. Finding a dead bird doesn’t mean that babies nearby are orphaned. Again, rehabilitators can often help you determine whether the little ones are orphaned (or if they’re even the same species as the adult).
Foxes and coyotes raise their young cooperatively as well, but dads, of course, can’t make milk. After about 6-10 weeks of age (depending on how fit the babies were to begin with and how well they’re eating solid food), most fox and coyote youngsters can be raised by a single dad. Keep an eye out to see if they still have an adult caring for them before taking the little ones.
Some species do raise their young alone and tend to dominate one territory. If you’ve found a lactating female deceased very close to the known den of a skunk, raccoon, or groundhog, that’s always a reason to bring the babies in for help. Opossum joeys found on a dead mother also always need help.
When in doubt, it’s always a good idea to touch base with a rehabilitator for advice, but please don’t rush to take babies from the wild simply because you’ve found a dead adult. We try to keep wild babies with their families whenever possible.
Baby cottontail rabbits are frequent victims of kidnapping. A mother cottontail only visits her young twice a day, once at dawn and once at dusk, so baby rabbits are often mistaken for being orphaned when they’re actually just fine.
Like all animals, a baby cottontail rabbit’s best chance of survival is always with its natural parents, and they are best left alone. Some exceptions occur when:
The bunny has been caught by a cat. Even if there are no visible puncture wounds, cat bites are essentially always fatal to wild rabbits unless they are treated immediately with appropriate antibiotics. Any rabbit that has been in a cat’s mouth needs a rehabilitator.
The babies are clearly weak or starving. It may sound hard to identify, since rabbits are naturally helpless at birth, but you’ll know it when you see it! Weak, starving baby rabbits may look shriveled or have disproportionately large heads. They will feel cold to the touch. (It is okay to carefully touch the bunny to see if it feels cold.)
The best had been destroyed and the mother hasn’t returned. You can normally return bunnies to their nest even after it has been disturbed by a lawn mower, but if you do this and the mother still hasn’t come back, it may be time to get a rehabilitator. You can gently place string in a tic-tac-toe pattern over the kits to see if it is still in place after 12 hours. Note, though, that some mother rabbits have actually been recorded feeding their young without a trace!
The bunny has been injured by a lawnmower. Lawnmowers and weed eaters are a major cause of death for baby bunnies. Even if the injury looks superficial, most cuts by lawn equipment need medical care. It is best to call a rehabilitator just in case.
The bunny is smaller than a baseball and out of its nest. Baby rabbits are independent starting when they’re somewhere between the size of a baseball and a softball. If you see a very small baby bunny that is in a place that is clearly not in a nest— especially a sidewalk or road— please reach out for help.
Have you see that viral video of a bobcat attacking a woman, then getting grabbed and thrown by her husband? Some people found it hilarious. Others found it terrifying. A few called it fake, correctly observing that bobcat attacks on humans are extremely rare.
The video is unfortunately real, but we need to emphasize that it is not a reason to fear bobcats. Bobcat attacks on humans are extremely rare because they are very elusive, shy creatures who prefer to avoid the sights, sounds, and smells of humans. There has never been a single fatal bobcat attack on a human in all of recorded history, but thousands of people per year die from attacks by domestic cats and dogs. The reason the video is so shocking is precisely because it is so extremely rare.
The bobcat in the video was clearly unwell. We noticed in the video that the bobcat was loudly vocalizing while approaching, which is not something a bobcat ever does while stalking its prey. (Why scare away your dinner?) The vocalizations also sounded highly unusual to us and were more consistent with an animal in pain than one looking for a meal.
The sheriff’s office local told the couple in the video confirmed that a rabid bobcat had been killed nearby, and it was almost certainly the same individual.
This is very, very usual, since rabies is actually surprisingly uncommon in bobcats. The animals most commonly infected with rabies in the U.S. include bats, skunks, raccoons, foxes, and domestic cats. Rabies is actually confirmed in bobcats even less often than it’s confirmed in cattle and groundhogs!
The bottom line: yeah, that video was a trip! But there’s no reason to live in fear of bobcats or to harm them. You’re astronomically more likely to get struck by lightning than to ever experience an attack by a bobcat.