Don’t Leave Medicine for Sick Wildlife

Have you ever heard of a doctor treating disease this way? When a doctor is in the mall and sees somebody coughing and sneezing, they don’t come back and leave a bowl of candy laced with Tamiflu.

That would be a bad idea for a number of reasons. The doctor can’t make a diagnosis from a glance, doesn’t know the person’s weight, doesn’t know if they might be allergic to an ingredient, and doesn’t even know if they’ll be back in that shopping mall any time soon. Medicated candy could easily go to the wrong person, including a small child who would be poisoned by an adult dose.

The same is true for wildlife. It’s dangerous to put medicated food outdoors and simply hope for the best. An animal that is sick enough to need treatment is sick enough that it needs to be captured and brought to a wildlife rehabilitator. There, it can deceive a correct diagnosis, an individualized treatment plan, and all the supportive care and monitoring it might need.

If you have spotted a sick animal, the kindest thing that you can do is to set a cage-style humane trap and bring the animal to your local wildlife rehabilitators. Please don’t try to medicate a wild animal yourself.

Don’t Hatch an Egg Found on the Ground!

This is one of the more common and frustrating calls we receive: “I found an egg and I’m going to hatch it!”

This usually happens when someone finds an egg on the ground and determines— often incorrectly— that it fell or blew out of a nest. Taking an egg out of nature and trying to raise it as a DIY project is never acceptable.

Many native wild birds naturally on the ground, including plovers, turkeys, geese, quail, grouse, terns, juncos, meadowlarks, sandpipers, and hermit thrushes. When a well-meaning person finds their eggs on the ground and kidnaps them, the parents will lose the unborn baby they have worked so hard to prepare for, and they may not be able to try again until next year.

Occasionally, you might actually find an egg on the ground that doesn’t belong there, but it’s almost never safe to make an assumption. Eggs are very hard to distinguish by appearance and it’s far too easy to make a mistake. A tree-nesting bird’s egg that has actually made its way to the ground is also probably no longer viable. The parents may have rejected it intentionally because the egg wasn’t fertilized, but if it fell out by accident, the embryo inside would almost certainly die in the process.

In the very unlikely event that an egg on the ground actually is viable and actually shouldn’t be on the ground, DIY hatching still isn’t an option. It is illegal to possess the eggs of any native bird, and the process of correctly incubating a wild bird’s egg is very delicate and easy to mess up. Even with the best incubators and equipment, a developing egg can easily be killed.

Should you decide to commit a crime and keep the egg, and should the egg you’re trying to incubate actually hatch, what then? A newly hatched songbird needs to be fed every fifteen minutes from the moment the sun rises until the moment it sets. Will you be available to provide this care? Do you have access to the thousands of live insects you will need to feed the bird, and do you have training to feed it safely? Do you have all the appropriate caging, from an artificial nest in an incubator to a long-term, fully furnished outdoor aviary? Do you have access to a veterinarian who would provide emergency care for a bird that is illegally in your possession? Unfortunately, caring for a baby bird is far, far more challenging than many people assume, so it is easy to get in far over your head.

We don’t say all of this to make anyone feel ashamed of their desire to help an egg found on the ground. It’s wonderful to care and to have a childlike wonder at the beauty of the world around us. However, it’s important to be aware of how unrealistic and harmful it is to take birds’ eggs from the wild.

If you found an egg on the ground, the only kind and correct thing to do is leave it alone.

Don’t Rescue Native Prey from Native Predators

We were on the fence about sharing this story, because we know there are people who will be offended and upset by our advice to sometimes let nature be nature. But we feel we have an obligation to advocate for wildlife even when our advice is upsetting or unpopular. So here’s a true story that happened last week: the “other side” of the story.

Once upon a time, in Hamilton County, Tennessee, there was a hard-working crow family with babies to feed. Crows are very social, sensitive, and intelligent, and are fiercely dedicated to their mates and young. A daddy crow was working very hard to feed his fast-growing family, and he was doing a fine job. He was exhausted and he was barely able to keep himself fed, but his mate and his babies were thriving. He loved them, and he was proud of them.

Crows grow very quickly in their first few weeks of life, and their need for lots of food means that parents must work very, very hard in order for them to survive. As omnivores, crows need to feed their young meat in addition to fruits and seeds in order to survive. Without it, the babies will pass away from anemia, failure to thrive, or simply starvation. So, of course, being a good parent, Daddy Crow was on the lookout for meat.

Daddy Crow found some newborn mammals. Perfect! They’re nutrient-rich and soft, perfect for helping his little ones grow. Excited with his find, he called his mate to help split up the bounty and bring it home.

While they was at work preparing a meal for their children, a human saw what he was doing and decided that the crow parents were evil and chased them away. After spending the whole day (and precious energy) desperately looking for food, the parents now had nothing to feed their little ones, or themselves.

Their dinner was brought to For Fox Sake. He was a tiny raccoon less than two days old and he could not be saved. He had internal injuries, as evidenced by blood coming out of his ears, nose, mouth, and rectum. While his finder thought they were doing the right thing, the truth is that no one was rescued. Instead, multiple animals were victimized— the crows and their young, who lost their hard-earned meal, and the raccoon himself, whose suffering was greatly prolonged by a well-intended effort to save him.

Wildlife rehabilitators are not gods of the forest, here to pass moral judgments on animals and punish the ones whose diets or language or appearance don’t meet our personal standards. We’re here to save wild animals when it’s both necessary and compassionate to do so. In the event of a natural predator who is in the middle of eating its natural prey, intervention isn’t appropriate.

While we always want to help native wild animals who are hurt by human causes or domestic animals— or who are suffering in a way that offers no benefit to other animals or the greater ecosystem— we ask our supporters across the world to be compassionate to animals in every position on the food chain and to remember that even the less glamorous animals in the natural world have a role to play. Out of sympathy for both predator and prey, please don’t try to stop native predators from eating.

Montana’s Government Intentionally Spread Mange in Wildlife

Whenever a coyote or fox is admitted to For Fox Sake, the very first thing we do is treat them for sarcoptic mange. The few who come to us without symptoms invariably have the mites in their skin and, without treatment, will develop symptoms within a few days. No matter what part of the state they come from, wild members of the dog family are infested.

And it’s not their fault. It’s ours.

While canine sarcoptic mites— the tiny bugs that cause mange in dogs and their wild cousins— would have occasionally spread to wildlife without human intervention, the epidemic of mange in North American wildlife can be pretty solidly traced back to Montana in the early 1900s.

In those days, wild animals were not valued for their role in the ecosystem, or for their beauty, or for their inherent right to freedom and dignity. All land was viewed as potential profit and all wildlife was viewed as an inconvenience. The state of Montana decided to hire a veterinarian to capture families of wolves and coyotes, intentionally infect them with mange, and release them so they could return to their dens and spread the disease throughout the wild. This occurred annually from 1905 until 1916. Before that time, sarcoptic mange had never been recorded in North American wildlife.

Untreated, mange can be fatal, and it’s a terrible way to go. Animals with it become dehydrated and develop open sores, which become infected. When they lose their fur, they expend more energy while struggling to regulate their body temperatures, and they can starve. Some “lucky” animals simply freeze to death.

Sarcoptic mites are extremely contagious, especially among social animals. To say that it spread like wildfire would be an understatement. As climate change, urbanization, and secondary rodenticide exposure have left wild animals even more susceptible to mange, it’s rare to find a fox, wolf, or coyote who is completely unaffected by it, and the mites are quickly adapting to more easily infect other animals, such as bears.

We often get asked, in wildlife rehabilitation, why we don’t let nature take its course. The truth is that we often do. We don’t take natural prey away from natural predators and we don’t take small, weak, or old animals out of the wild simply because we think captivity is better. But, in many cases, humans are to blame for the problems facing our native wildlife, and we believe that means we have a responsibility to help.

You can help to prevent the spread of mange in wildlife by never feeding wild animals (especially predators), by never relocating wildlife, and by working with your local wildlife rehabilitators to trap and treat animals with mange symptoms in your area. While it’s far too late to fully undo the damage unleashed over a century ago, it’s never too late to be kind and compassionate to wildlife.

Use AHnow, Not 911, for Wildlife Emergencies

We know that wildlife emergencies can be scary, and we all learned as children that the best thing to do in an emergency is to call 911! But unfortunately, calling 911 for an orphaned or injured wild animal is not helpful. It could delay assistance for the animal, tie up resources needed for human emergencies, and possibly even lead to consequences such as fines.

911 dispatchers are not generally trained on veterinary first aid and don’t usually have a list of licensed rehabilitators handy. They may unintentionally give incorrect advice and it may take them extra time while they track down a list of rehabilitators (something you could do yourself in less time). 911 is for emergencies that impact human health and safety, like serious human injuries, violent crime, fires, and car accidents.

There are a few rare exceptions that warrant contacting 911 for a wildlife emergency, such as when an animal is posing an immediate public safety hazard. Examples of this might include a wild animal that is actively attacking a person or an injured bear or adult deer blocking a high-speed highway.

If you’ve found an orphaned or injured wild animal in need of assistance anywhere in North America, please check AHnow.org for help. This is a continent-wide directory that can connect you with licensed rehabilitators local to you, who accept the species you have found.

Tree Service? Watch for Baby Animals

During “baby season,” animals of all species are orphaned or killed due to tree work. 😞 Dead and dying trees, in particular, often have hollows that make them ideal habitats for animals ranging from flying squirrels to bluebirds. When the trees are trimmed or, worse, cut down entirely, it can kill an entire family.

It’s best to wait until fall to have tree work done, if at all possible. However, if a tree (or part of a tree) is posing a safety hazard, we understand that sometimes it’s necessary to address it during spring or summer.

Before work begins, be absolutely certain that your tree trimmer has checked for nests, eggs, and live animals. If an active nest of any kind is discovered, please work with the tree trimmer to safely remove and re-nest the family before work begins. If the worker finds a nest belonging to any species of bird, it’s important to contact a federally permitted rehabilitator for assistance, since re-nesting birds can be especially challenging.

While we’re happy to care for baby animals who are truly orphaned or abandoned, it is always in an animal’s best interest to stay with its natural parents whenever possible. Please try to avoid taking baby animals away from their homes whenever possible.

Tree service is sometimes necessary, even at times that it might be harmful to animals, but it’s important to make sure we all do everything in our power to minimize the impact we have on our wild neighbors.

Newborn Foxes Don’t Look Like Foxes

Please be aware as we head into baby season: newborn foxes don’t look much like the adults you’re more familiar with. Every year, litters of kits get harmed because of mistaken identity.

This litter was rehabilitated by The Fox Project in the UK. They were initially brought to an animal shelter by someone who thought they were puppies. In a similar case here in the US, firefighters rescued a large litter of “puppies” from a storm drain, and the fox kits were so young and so weak that they passed in rehabilitation after the mistake was recognized.

In the most upsetting case we heard of, a young vixen was shot by someone who thought she was carrying a stray kitten. Only after this senseless murder, did the shooter realize that the “kitten” was her own baby.

Please never remove a newborn baby animal from the wild, especially without knowing exactly what it is. Even poisitively identified domestic kittens and puppies found outdoors should be taken to shelters and rescues with their mothers, not alone.

Some of the ways that you can tell fox kits apart from domestic kittens and puppies are by their feet. Foxes have delicate, kitten-like claws, but they are not fully retractible as they are in kittens. A fox’s toe pad placement is also notably different than a cat’s or dog’s (but it’s easier to look up a visual description than to see it described). Fox kits also generally have white-tipped or black-tipped tails (depending on species) from birth, before the rest of their coloration is evident.

Please help keep baby animals of all kinds with their natural mothers, who can care for them better than the world’s best rehabbers and rescues.

Gray Red Foxes and Red Gray Foxes

Yes, you read it correctly! A lot of people in our area have trouble identifying which species of fox they have found. Two fox species are native to our area, the gray fox (on the left) and the red fox (on the right).

The confusion is understandable since gray foxes have an abundance of reddish fur bordering their gray markings, and since red foxes exist in a full spectrum of colors, including many shades of gray!

Red foxes are usually red, but they also naturally occur in “silver” (dark gray), white, cream, or cross (a combination of red and silver markings). Captive-bred red foxes come in dozens more colors including exotic shades like chocolate, lilac, and sapphire. The blue-gray colored red fox on the right was a fur farm rescue with our friends at SaveAFox!

Since red foxes bred for fur and the pet trade are sometimes released into the wild and mate with native animals, it’s possible (though very rare) for a fox born in the wild to show some of the more unique colors previously seen only in captivity.

Grey foxes are much less variable than their red fox cousins, with color variations being especially rare for members of the gray fox species.

The easiest and most foolproof way of identifying the species of a local fox is to take a look at its tail. In nearly all cases, a gray fox will have a black-tipped tail, while a red fox will have a white-tipped tail.

Have you seen an oddly colored fox in the wild and been unsure of what you were looking at? We’d love to see your photos!

Our Structurally Green Wildlife

Happy Saint Patrick’s Day! We thought today could be a fun time to discuss some of our under-appreciated native animals: green anoles, rough and smooth green snakes, and green tree frogs. All of these little guys are critical parts of our ecosystem because they help control pest populations. Unfortunately, they’re all also experiencing population declines due to pesticides, habitat loss, and capture for the pet trade.

You might have noticed that green is a relatively rare color in wildlife. Green birds are rare, green reptiles and amphibians are fairly uncommon, and green mammals don’t even exist! That’s because animals are incapable of producing green pigment. Animals can appear green for one of two reasons (or occasionally, a combination of the two)— some, like certain corals, produce green pigment with the help of algaes and other plants. The majority of green animals, though, are green due to structural coloration.

Our local green lizards, snakes, and frogs fall into that category. Structural coloration happens when the microscopic texture of the animal’s skin, feathers, or scales causes it to reflect a specific part of the spectrum of light. If you were to look at these animals’ bodies under an electron microscope, you’d just see interlinking chains of gray, brown, cream, yellow, black, or white, but the underlying crystal-like structure appears green when we look at the animal without the aid of a microscope.

Some animals, like our native green anoles, can even use specialized cells called chromatophores to alter the position of the cells controlling yellow and brown pigment, so as to block light from reflecting on their structurally green scales. This ability to change color is what earned them the nickname “American chameleon.”

What’s your favorite green animal?

Should You Kill the Snake that Bit You?

You likely heard this myth growing up, especially if you had a misguided scout leader or grandpa! The idea is that, if you get bitten by a snake, you should immediately kill it so you can bring it with you to the emergency room. Supposedly, the snake’s carcass will allow doctors to know whether the snake is venomous and what treatment is needed.

There are several reasons that this is a terrible idea. One is that— even if you don’t care at all about the well-being of the snake— attempting to kill or capture it is a way to nearly guarantee a second bite. Danger-noodles often “dry bite” with the first strike but fully envenomate with the second. If the snake that bit you is venomous, trying to catch it will make the situation go from you-need-a-doctor-bad, to you-might-actually-die-bad.

Another issue is that bringing the carcass to the ER won’t actually affect your treatment. We don’t know of many medical doctors who moonlight as herpetologists, and hospital staff who are great with snake identification are required by law (and malpractice insurance!) to treat you based on your symptoms. In an emergency, no doctor would bet a patient’s life on the opinion of hospital’s nurses and janitors who are arguing over whether it’s a watersnake or a water moccasin.

If you have been bitten by a venomous snake, your treatment won’t actually depend on doctors knowing its species. It’s a common misconception that species-specific antivenins are the only way to treat snakebites, but there’s only one antivenin sold in the United States. It works for multiple species and many hospitals don’t even carry it. Antivenins are mostly used in parts of the world where snakes are much more likely to be deadly, and yes, we mean Australia.

Instead, most snake bites in the U.S. are treated successfully based on symptoms. A snake bite victim might receive medications to treat allergic reactions, stabilize the heart, improve blood clotting, reduce inflammation, and relieve pain… or they might find out that they have no symptoms of venom exposure and simply get sent home after monitoring. These medications are given based on the patient’s actual condition, not the type of snake they were bitten by.

If you do get bitten by a snake (which is, itself, rare unless it is provoked) please don’t endanger yourself and harm the animal by trying to kill it. Leave it alone and call for help as quickly as possible. If you’re able to take a photo of the nope-rope without it putting you in danger or delaying your medical attention, a picture is just as helpful as a carcass in helping to identify the animal.