Never Feed an Orphaned Wild Animal

People with good intentions accidentally kill a lot of baby animals. Please make sure you don’t contribute to this problem this baby season if you come across a baby animal in need!

Orphaned animals are almost always hypothermic and dehydrated after hours or days without their mothers’ care. When they’re in that state, they can’t digest solid food, including the solids found naturally in their mothers’ milk. Babies fed before they have been medically stabilized end up criticallly ill and often don’t survive, despite our best efforts.

This is especially bad when people unknowingly give inappropriate food, like cow’s milk, goat’s milk, or human breast milk to orphans. Levels of fat, lactose, and protein in milk vary so much by species that it can be a huge shock to a baby’s system when given the wrong thing. This is especially true when the animal is already in very bad condition due to being orphaned.

If you find a baby animal and are certain that it is an orphan, please keep it warm and put it somewhere quiet while you find a rehabilitator. As tempting as it may be to feed the hungry critter, that can cause a lot of harm.

Found an Orphaned Animal? Keep it Warm!

If you find a baby animal and are certain that it is truly orphaned— for example, because you actually saw the mother’s body nearby or because the babies are clearly emaciated— the most important thing you can do is keep it warm!

Hypothermia— freezing to death— is the most common cause of death in orphaned animals. It tends to kill even faster than dehydration and hunger. Baby birds and mammals can’t regulate their own body temperatures, and depend on their mothers’ body heat to stay safe. When a baby’s temperature drops, there are only minutes to hours left before it’s too late.

While you contact a wildlife rehabilitator, be sure to provide any orphaned wildlife with an external heat source. An incubator or heating pad is ideal, but if you don’t have those, you can microwave a sock filled with rice for one minute. If it’s too hot to the touch, wrap it in a blanket before tucking it beside the critter.

Please remember that blankets alone can’t keep a newborn baby animal warm. Until they are older, baby mammals and birds don’t produce enough of their own body heat to survive, even when wrapped in blankets.

When it comes to saving wildlife, we depend on everyday people like you to provide the first moments of critical care. Please help us save lives this baby season by keeping little ones warm until you’re able to get them to a licensed rehabilitator!

Songbird Fever in Cats: A Warning

Have you seen the warnings we’ve posted about the salmonella epidemic affecting songbirds? There’s another side of it too, and it’s one I have firsthand experience with. I hope that this warning might save both birds and cats.

This is my daughter, and this is her best friend, Happy. As an advocate for both wildlife and cats, I have always been dedicated to keeping my pets safely indoors, but, as many cat owners know, accidents happen. When Happy slipped out the front door a few years ago but was safely home within a few hours, I didn’t think much of it.

In the weeks and months that followed, Happy came down with a mystery illness that his vet couldn’t identify. He has horrible, bloody diarrhea and nasty vomit. He lost over half of his body weight. His fur fell out. He had pale gums and rancid breath. I was terrified I would have to break the news to my daughter that she would have to tell him goodbye.

Six months into Happy’s mystery illness, his veterinarian finally made a diagnosis: songbird fever. It happens when a cat eats a bird infected with salmonella. The reason it took so long to diagnose was that I had told my vet that he was an indoor cat, and it hadn’t occurred to me that he could have killed a bird in just a few hours outdoors!

Happy slowly recovered, but had permanent damage to his body from it, and the ordeal cost thousands of dollars.

Happy didn’t deserve this, and neither do your cats. Just as importantly, songbirds— which are already suffering from habitat loss, climate change, window collisions, wind turbines, and more— don’t deserve to become snacks or toys for domestic cats.

Please protect wildlife and your own pets! Keep your cats safely indoors, where they can have the long, healthy, and happy lives that they deserve.

Where are Armadillos in Winter?

Armadillos are tropical animals and can’t hibernate.

Did you know that armadillos are tropical animals? They evolved from the same common ancestor as anteaters and sloths, and are made to live only in environments that are toasty-warm all year. Nature didn’t equip them with the ability to hibernate and they don’t have the warm, thick coats or body fat that most mammals need to stay warm in winter.

Nine-banded armadillos— the kind that live here in Tennessee— missed that memo. Originally from South of the Border, they migrated into the U.S. in the late 1800s to take advantage of the loss of large predators in the Southwest. From there, they’ve spread as far north as Nebraska and Illinois and have made themselves at home even in Tennessee’s coldest, most mountainous regions.

The main way that armadillos survive our winters is by digging burrows up to 15 feet long and spending most of their time in those burrows during cold weather. The burrows provide natural insulation to shield the armadillo’s nearly-naked body from the elements. To survive the season, an armadillo has to be lucky enough to have a fairly steady supply of live insects and worms in and around the burrow. Though primarily nocturnal during the warmer seasons, an armadillo has to come out on warm afternoons— however rare they might be— to seek whatever food it can find in fair weather. Otherwise, it will starve to death before spring.

You’re not likely to see an armadillo out and about this time of year, but if you do, it will usually be during an unusually warm and sunny day, and the armadillo will be hard at work trying to find some buggy snacks to stay alive for the rest of the season.

Although they are relative newcomers to our area, armadillos are still important and special little critters. They are great at eating fire ants, grubs, maggots, and other insects that can become pests if unchecked. In a month or so, our little accordion neighbors will be coming out of hiding and will be hard at work raising their young on a diet rich in pests.

Tennessee’s Elk: A Success Story

Elk were once extinct in Tennessee, but they’ve made a remarkable comeback!

We love our native wildlife!

Did you know that Tennessee is home to a herd of over 400 wild elk? They’re one of our state’s most amazing conservation success stories.

Elk once roamed Tennessee in herds numbering in the thousands. Unmanaged hunting caused their numbers to plummet, as did the destruction of the prairies and forests they depended on for their survival. The very last native Tennessean elk was killed in 1865, and by 1880, the subspecies that once roamed the Eastern United States was extinct.

That could have been the very end, but it wasn’t! Beginning in the 1990s, TWRA started working to restore specific areas of the state so that they could once again sustain wild elk. Over the course of many years, TWRA imported over 200 individuals, of a subspecies closely related to our extinct native elk, from Canada. Their populations thrived and elk are now doing very well in some parts of the state.

The success of Tennessee’s elk conservation proves that people can work together to protect and restore our natural world.

Have you been lucky enough to see a wild elk in Tennessee?

The Coyote’s Violet Gland

Coyotes have a black spot covering their violet gland, also called the supracaudal gland.

If you’ve been lucky enough to see wild coyotes up-close, you might have noticed that many have a prominent dark spot on their tails. Just under this spot is a nifty organ called the supracaudal gland or violet gland! It gets its name because it produces a musky oil that smells very strongly like violets.

The oils produced by violet glands are used in communication and scent-marking, and your night see animals rubbing their upper tails against trees or rocks to leave messages for others.

Coyotes aren’t the only animals with violet glands. All members of the dog family have them, as do several unrelated species! Violet glands produce pungent odors in foxes, and are often prominently marked in wolves.

Many breeds of domestic dog also have violet glands, and— as with coyotes— they’re often marked by a dark spot. You might be able to find a spot marking your own dog’s violet gland! Isn’t it neat to see the connections between our own pets and their wild cousins?

Getting Raccoons Out of Your Attic Humanely

Raccoons don’t simply abandon their babies. They will destroy homes trying to find them.

It’s a situation that happens to every year: a home owner discovers that a raccoon has tried to raise a family in an attic or crawlspace. When Mom is out looking for food, the home owner brings the kits to a wildlife rehabilitator— often refusing to take no for an answer— and assume that the mother will simply leave now that her kits are gone.

This is the absolute worst way to remove a “nuisance” animal from your home. Like human mothers, raccoons are extremely dedicated, loving, and protective. If they come home to find their kits missing, they won’t just shrug it off. We have seen raccoons rip apart shingles, chew into soffits, climb down chimneys, and even run frantically into living rooms and bedrooms, desperately trying to find their kidnapped babies. A cheap, simple issue then becomes a series of expensive repairs for the home owner.

It’s also hard on us. Raccoons are expensive to raise, require hundreds of hours of labor, and need tons of space, and most rehabilitators are out of resources for them by mid-summer. Many kidnapped raccoon kits end up with nowhere to go because rehabilitators simply don’t have the ability to take them all.

Luckily, there are humane ways to handle a mama raccoon in your attic.

One option is the have Mom move the kits out herself by using bright lights, loud noises, and strong smells to convince her that this is an inhospitable place to raise a family. A radio, lamp, and a rag covered in Vicks Vaporub is a good start! She will head out on her own and take the babies with her.

Alternatively, you can remove the kits while Mama is away and put them in a box or basket in an outdoor space, as close as possible to where they were found. Be sure to wear gloves when doing this because even newborn raccoons can transmit disease. Put an external heat source, such as a hand warmer, rice sock, or hot water bottle, with the kits to keep them warm, and give them space overnight so she can retrieve them and move them somewhere else.

Once the family is gone, permanently close whatever entry point the mother used to get into your home. Even she will not be back herself, other animals will take advantage of any home that has weak spots where they can enter freely. If you’re not sure how to find and close the entry points, contact a nuisance wildlife operator or home improvement expert for help.

Please don’t make a tough situation worse by kidnapping baby animals! Be kind and protect your property by choosing humane solutions.

Raptors are Not Dinosaurs

A raptor is a bird of prey, not a dinosaur.

When we say things like, “We’ll get you the number for a raptor rehabilitator,” many people respond by informing us that raptors are extinct. Thankfully, they aren’t! There are over 500 species of raptor currently sharing our planet.

Raptors— also called “birds of prey”— are a large group of birds including hawks, owls, falcons, and eagles. The term is sometimes also applied to our native vultures, although they are more closely related to storks than they are to other birds of prey. The term “raptor,” which comes from a root word meaning to seize or grab, was used for centuries before the discovery of dinosaurs.

Velociraptors were small, carnivorous dinosaurs first discovered in the 1920s. Anatomically, they were very similar to modern birds of prey, so paleontologists gave them the name velociraptor, meaning “fast bird of prey.”

The name velociraptor was never meant to actually imply that velociraptors are raptors. (The name stegosaurus means “roofed lizard,” but they did not have roofs and were not lizards!)

The Jurassic Park series unfortunately had a negative impact on our cultural understanding of what a raptor is. In the series, the characters shorten the name “velociraptor” to “raptor,” similar to how they refer to a triceratops as a “trike.” The nickname stuck, and for nearly 30 years, the general public has used the term almost exclusively to refer to velociraptors and their relatives.

While the sentence, “T’challa the bobcat was dropped by a raptor,” would certainly be much more interesting if it referred to an extinct dinosaur, we’re referring to modern birds of prey when we use the term!

Head Pressing in Raccoons

Head pressing in raccoons is usually a symptom of canine distemper or another central nervous system infection.

This is something we see often— raccoons curled up with their heads pressed against the ground, their eyes shielded from sunlight.

To well-meaning bystanders, it’s easy to project human experiences onto these situations. People assume they’re frightened, cold, or even depressed. Unfortunately, the reality is usually far worse than that.

Animals head-press when they have terrible headaches. Ever have a sinus headache and felt a little better when pushing the heal of your hand against your forehead? Head-pressing is a lot like that.

Raccoons rarely have severe headaches for benign reasons. In the best-case scenarios, head-pressing in a raccoon is a sign of a bad concussion. In the worst cases, it is a symptom of inflammation in the spine and/or brain, caused by a viral infection.

Canine distemper is the most common infectious cause of head-pressing in raccoons. In fact, out of nearly 100 patients we’ve seen with head pressing as a symptom, every single one was suffering from canine distemper.

If you see a raccoon pressing its head against the ground, please do not touch or approach it, but contact your local animal control, game wardens, or wildlife rehabilitators for assistance.

Coon Cuffs are Cruel

Coon Cuffs are promoted as humane, but they cause animals to suffer terribly.

Warning: this image is graphic.

We know this is hard to look at, but it’s important to see. We were contacted today about this beautiful young raccoon who suffered terribly while stuck in a popular form of “humane” trap.

These cylinder-shaped traps, called “Coon Cuffs,” are marketed as a humane, safe, species-specific alternative to spring traps. But this marketing is deceptive. As you can see here, raccoons stuck in these traps suffer tremendously. We have seen many cases of broken bones, gashes, and other painful injuries in raccoons who sought food from a deceptive source.

Our friends at McKamey Animal Services were able to successfully get this fellow into care in hopes of transferring him to us for rehabilitation, but he was unfortunately suffering from shock, blood loss, and dehydration in addition to having his hand nearly severed by the trap. He ultimately did not survive his injuries.

No one would ever even consider doing this to a cat or dog. If they did, they would face jail time or worse. We want to live in a world where wild animals are afforded the same level of respect as our companions.

Please don’t use Coon Cuffs or any other trap that grasps an animal by its leg. If you must capture a wild animal, such as for veterinary care or rehabilitation, please use a cage-style trap and check it at least every 8 hours.

Let’s work together to share our planet and to treat our fellow earthlings with compassion.