This is a common and understandable question that wildlife rehabilitators receive. After all, death and disease are a very real, and important, part of the balance of the natural world.
For the most part, wildlife rehabilitators do not intervene when nature is running its course in a wilderness area. Although personal ethics vary by individual, most rehabbers intervene only when humans have played a role in an animal becoming injured or orphaned— like when a pet, lawnmower, gunshot, or vehicle is to blame. A wildlife rehabilitator will not typically save prey animals from their natural predators, for example.
But in some cases, it’s necessary for a rehabilitator to accept an animal even when its problems are natural. When rehabilitators refuse to accept an animal for intake based on principle, the person who found the animal will often choose to raise it themselves. This usually leads to a very long and painful death for the animal due to improper care, and can cause humans to be exposed to rabies and other very serious diseases. I will accept animals orphaned by natural causes in order to protect the animal from further harm by well-meaning people, and to protect the human finder from exposure to bites and disease.
Intervening is also often necessary as part of monitoring and controlling the spread of rabies. Much of my work— the unpleasant but necessary part— involves euthanizing sick animals and submitting their bodies to the USDA for rabies testing. This is a very important step in disease control and public safety, and also prevents sick animals from suffering horrifically painful deaths.
I do believe in allowing nature to take its course when reasonable. But I also believe that I have a duty to protect public safety and to prevent unnecessary suffering, and that is why I generally help whenever I am asked.
Despite its name, this beauty is a member of the exact same species that you might find naturally in your own neighborhood, right here in Chattanooga. “Arctic marble”’ foxes are simply a color variation of the red fox species. Although the marble pattern was popularized by the fur industry and pet trade, the mutation can rarely occur in the wild, anywhere in the world where red foxes live!
It’s a common myth that wild animals will abandon their young because of the smell of a human hand. Animal parents have a strong instinct to nurture their babies, and many don’t have a sense of smell strong enough to even notice human handling. If your child has handled a baby animal and the animal is not hurt, please put it back in its nest or where it was found. But, in the interest of preventing disease, stress, and injury, remind children not to handle wildlife.
I specialize in rescuing rabies vector species. Among the most frustrating calls, messages, and comments I receive are from people bragging about how they saw a “rabid” animal, and reacted by shooting it in the head.
When an animal does have genuinely rabies-like symptoms, it must be euthanized, not just for human safety, but for the sake of sparing it terrible suffering. However, a bullet to the head is one of the worst possible ways to dispatch a rabid animal, because rabies testing requires an examination of brain tissue. Often, an animal that was shot in the head can’t be tested for rabies because of the damage. And shooting the animal anywhere besides the head is a cruel and painful way to end its life.
If you see an animal that you suspect is rabid because it is staggering, hypersalivating, convulsing, or extremely aggressive: please immediately call your local health department, animal control officers, or wildlife rehabilitators in order to have the animal humanely euthanized and appropriately tested. Shooting should be a last resort only for emergencies.
Widespread hunting of raccoons isn’t an effective way to reduce their populations. In some cases, it can actually create a much larger problem, by eliminating the dominant older males in an area, causing it to flood with younger competitors.
Think of a bloodhound’s sense of smell. Think of a hawk’s sense of sight. That’s what touch is, for a raccoon. This is part of why the work For Fox Sake does is so important. It’s been my experience, seeing raccoons in their weakest moments, that they appear to feel pain severely and acutely. What would feel like a minor scratch to a person is excruciating for a raccoon. I believe we all have a duty to prevent such suffering whenever possible.
Wildlife rehabilitation is not paid for by the state. I cover the costs out of my own pocket, and there are times those costs are so high that I have to turn animals away. You can help make sure we have the food and medicine to care for these sensitive, intelligent animals during their times of need. Please consider donating today.
Every year, tens of thousands of birds across the United States are illegally killed. It happens when apartment maintenance crews pressure-wash barn swallow nests from building sides. It happens when home owners “clean up” nests on their porches. It happens when store owners clear out the nests on their signs.
Make no mistake: no matter what you’ve been told, no matter whether you own the property, killing migratory native birds is a federal crime that can land you in prison. And the law *is* enforced. All it takes is a neighbor or bystander making the call.
Migratory birds have a right to exist, to nest, and to raise their young, including on private property. The only exception to this law is when the bird is of a non-native species, such as a European starling or house sparrow. But unless you’re 100% certain about the identity of the nesting bird, this is not a chance worth taking.
If you see someone disturbing the nest of a native bird, please immediately report them to your local police or game wardens. Help keep our native wildlife safe.
No animal exemplifies the spirit of Tennessee’s wilderness quite like the black bear. But, as these beautiful animals’ populations increase, they may occasionally be seen in town. A black bear seen in the suburbs does not need to be killed or removed, unless it is showing signs that it has become acclimated to humans. If there have been black bears spotted near your suburban neighborhood:
-There was almost certainly something that lured it there. Get in touch with your neighbors to make sure everyone has secured their trash and pet food.
-Don’t leave pet food outside. This will attract bears and cause them to associate humans with food.
-Keep your trash can lids locked. You can purchase latches online.
-Keep your grill clean and don’t leave food waste outside.
-Although black bear predation on cats and dogs is rare, keep pets properly contained and supervised.
-When bears are active in your neighborhood, bring bird feeders inside.
-NEVER pursue or corner a bear, even to take photos.
-Keep children inside or properly supervised. Be sure to advise children to never approach wildlife.
-If a black bear does actually approach you, raise and wave your arms and yell at it. Black bears rarely approach humans but in rare cases where one does approach a person, it can usually be deterred by intimidation. Do not play dead or run. Report the bear to officials (TWRA if you live in Tennessee) promptly.
A stray house cat or free-roaming dog is an astronomically larger threat to your family than a wild bobcat. Bobcats are naturally shy animals and do not naturally prey on humans, and a typical bobcat is the size of a very large house cat (about 18 pounds). Bobcat attacks on cats and dogs are rare, and normally occur when the bobcat is cornered or sick. If you do see a bobcat that is unusually aggressive or appears unafraid of humans and pets, contact your local wildlife authorities or animal control, since these may be symptoms of rabies.
Killing a fox to protect your chickens is not only ineffective— it often makes matters worse. Foxes are territorial and will exist in any suitable habitat. When you kill a big, mature, chicken-eating fox, his territory will almost immediately be filled by two or three younger foxes. Even if you kill them too— even if you somehow kill every fox in North America— that won’t stop coyotes, raccoons, skunks, cats, dogs, and hawks from taking your chickens.
The *only* effective solution to wildlife predation is to properly secure enclosures and use humane techniques to dissuade predators. This includes securing coops and runs, top to bottom, with hardware cloth or chicken wire, installing motion-activated lights, and sometimes using weak electric fencing. I know this can be expensive, which is why I’m willing to help. If you live in Hamilton County and need help protecting small livestock, call or text (423) 475-2691 and I’ll do my best to help you get the materials you need.