5 Signs a Baby Bunny Needs Help

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.)
  3. 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!
  4. 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.
  5. 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.

About that guy who yeeted the bobcat…

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.

Found an “Orphan” Turtle?

Baby turtles found alone don’t need help.

Please don’t “rescue” baby turtles of any kind unless they’re noticeably injured!

There is no such thing as an orphan turtle. Unlike mammals, birds, and a couple of reptiles, turtles do not care for their young at all. A mother turtle lays her eggs and never sees them again.

Well-meaning people who “rescue” turtles from the wild aren’t doing them any favors: without UV lighting, spacious habitats, and an extremely carefully balanced diet, turtles brought into captivity don’t survive. A young turtle is more likely to die in captivity than in the natural world where it belongs.

However, if you spot a baby turtle trying to cross a road, please help it cross in the direction it’s going! You can also give wild turtles a hand by keeping your pets indoors or leashed when you know there are young turtles around.

Five Signs a Fawn Needs Help

It’s baby season, so we’ll be focusing our posts over the next few days on identifying babies that are truly orphaned and in need of help! Some of the most common kidnapping victims are fawns. Their mothers leave them alone for long periods of time, so well-meaning people often mistake them for orphans. It’s usually best to leave a fawn exactly where you found it. Some signs to that you do need to call a wildlife rehabilitator are:

  1. The fawn is crying. A fawn will make a loud, desperate “myaaa” sound when extremely hungry. Fawns don’t usually vocalize because their noises can attract predators, so crying is a sign that something is amiss and that the baby is desperate for its mother.
  2. The fawn has curled ears. When a fawn becomes dehydrated, its ears curl at the tips. Some healthy fawns have naturally curled ears, so it’s not a good idea to use this sign alone as a reason to take a fawn into care. Instead, look for this symptom along with other red flags.
  3. You see flies, fly eggs, or maggots. Flies are drawn not just to dead animals, but also sick or weak ones. An orphaned fawn may be surrounded by flies or have eggs in its fur. (These look like grains of rice.) When the eggs hatch, this is a medical emergency and needs very urgent attention.
  4. The fawn has is visibly injured. While minor scrapes and bumps often heal fine on their own, serious injuries like gashes, bites, and broken bones warrant medical attention. Please take an injured fawn to a rehabilitator as quickly as possible.
  5. You have seen no sign of the mother for more than 48 hours. In the absence of other signs of danger, it is safe to leave a fawn up to 48 hours to wait for its mother to return. We have seen many cases of mothers who left their young for long periods of time but ultimately returned. However, after 48 hours, it’s usually best to “call it” and assume that the mother isn’t coming back.

Please remember that rehabilitation is not a DIY job! If you do find a fawn who needs help, it is critical to get in touch with a licensed rehabilitator as quickly as possible so the fawn can receive proper care. If you’re here in Tennessee, our friends at Walden’s Puddle in middle Tennessee and Little Ponderosa in East Tennessee are currently able to accept fawns.

Beaver or Groundhog?

Some of the easy differences to spot between beavers and groundhogs.

Beavers and groundhogs get mixed up often! It’s led to a few funny interactions. Once, we showed up to save a “beaver with something wrong with its tail,” only to find that the only thing wrong with her was that she was a groundhog— not meant to have a flat tail! Another time, a caller spaced on the word (something everybody does, ourselves included) and told us she’d found a “land beaver.” We like the term!

You’re not alone if you have trouble reeling these critters apart. In many ways, they’re very similar. Both are large, brown, herbivorous rodents that eat plants and are keystone species within our ecosystem. Once you know what to look for, it shouldn’t be too difficult!

Take a look at this chart for guidance on identifying the differences between beavers and groundhogs. We’re happy to help if you have a photo you’d like help identifying!

Our Volunteer Policy

It’s me, the executive director! I’ve been getting a lot of emails and phone calls from people interested in volunteering! You’re all awesome, and I wish I could say yes, but there are tons of reasons why, unlike most rehabilitation facilities, we don’t allow on-site volunteers from the general public.

The main thing? Insurance! We handle animals that are considered either inherently dangerous or high-risk for rabies. We pay nearly a thousand dollars per year just for liability insurance for our education ambassadors, who aren’t even handled by the public. 😱 When we’ve priced out comprehensive liability insurance that would cover (for example) a volunteer getting exposed to rabies and needing the post-exposure series, or missed work because a volunteer got sprayed by a skunk and isn’t allowed into work, the cheapest we see costs ten times that. Ack!

I knowingly take risks to my safety by running For Fox Sake, knowing that I am not covered in the event of a serious injury, but I can’t ask the general public to do the same. While this could theoretically be addressed by asking volunteers to sign a waiver, lawyers have informed me that those waivers almost never hold up in court and that it would be unwise to allow volunteers who may not follow them.

Another issue is ethics. As many times as I see “I want to pet it!” and “Can I adopt it?” messages, it’s hard for me to trust that anyone without a background in wildlife rehabilitation will respect that these are wild animals and that they need to be treated like wild animals. Cuddling and playing with them just makes it less likely that they can be released, and I don’t know who to trust.

Then there’s the personal side of things. While you may not know it from my internet presence, I actually have terrible social anxiety and I don’t do well with people, especially strangers! For Fox Sake is built in my backyard and I am pretty freaked out by the idea of people I don’t know well coming into my space. I’m the kind of person who sings to myself (badly) while cleaning cages and sometimes walks past windows without getting fully dressed, and I’d rather just do all the work myself than risk having people I don’t know around me (and my wife and kids!) at odd hours.

We do have a few volunteers here, though, so you may occasionally see posts that include or mention other people, especially members of the For Fox Sake Board of Directors. These volunteers are people with backgrounds working with wildlife who I have personally known for many years and trust not to play with the animals or sue For Fox Sake if they get hurt. Please don’t take it personally that some people volunteer here but you can’t!

Thank you all for understanding. It means the world to me that so many people want to help, and I’m sorry that circumstances don’t allow that to be a viable option here.

Opossum Bites: Not So Scary!

A comparison of the bite strength of opossums, humans, coyotes, Rottweilers, and hyenas, in pounds per square inch.

Opossums get killed frequently for looking “scary” or “fierce,” but they’re actually much weaker and less intimidating than they look! An opossum has fifty pointy teeth— more than any other land mammal— and will use those chompers to try to scare people away when they’re frightened.

While we don’t recommend getting bitten by any animals, opossums are some of the least dangerous and least intimidating critters you might encounter! Inch per inch, their bites are much weaker than those of a domestic dog, and about a third as strong as a human. You’d be much more likely to get seriously injured by an angry kid in a daycare.

While any puncture wound can get infected, opossum bites aren’t as dangerous as the bites of some other animals. Cats, for example, have bacteria-ridden saliva and teeth that seal anaerobic bacteria in a bite wound, making their bites some of the most dangerous. Opossums have cleaner mouths by comparison. Opossums are also among the least likely mammals to have rabies, so the risk of serious illness from an opossum bite is extremely low.

Please don’t fear opossums! They try to look scary when they need to, but they’re gentle, weak critters who just want to be left alone to fulfill their role in the natural world.

These Animals Don’t Dig Burrows!

Opossums, raccoons, tree squirrels, and cottontail rabbits don’t dig burrows.

No animal deserves to die for doing what comes naturally to it, but it’s especially upsetting when animals are killed for something they don’t actually do. Cottontail rabbits, raccoons, opossums, and tree squirrels all get killed routinely by people worried that they will dig burrows in their lawns.

European rabbits dig burrows, so many people assume by default that cottontail rabbits (which live here in the United States) do the same. Cottontails nest in shallow depressions or sometimes the vacated burrows belonging to other species, but do not dig their own burrows.

Raccoons and opossums are both primarily tree-dwelling animals. They have delicate, cat-like nails meant for climbing trees rather than tough, dog-like nails needed to dig. Both species have sensitive hands that they may used to feel around a lawn for bugs, but they will not actually dig.

While ground squirrels like woodchucks and chipmunks can dig burrows, tree squirrels do not. The most digging that a tree squirrel will do might involve an inch or two to bury a nut or look for food in the ground. Deep, disruptive burrows always belong to some other kind of animal.

Please don’t harm your local wildlife, especially for things they don’t actually do!

Are Coyotes Driving Deer to Extinction?

Every single time we share information about coyotes, we get a rush of people— mostly hunters— with claims that coyotes are driving whitetail deer to extinction. It’s a claim that would be laughable if it weren’t so dangerously harmful.

Deer populations in the United States are at an all-time high nationwide, and so are coyote populations. While coyotes do sometimes prey upon deer— mostly fawns— they can’t and don’t have a substantial impact on deer populations anywhere. That’s actually unfortunate for the deer, since deer populations are now much higher than what is considered healthy or sustainable, and deer are suffering from disease and starvation as a result.

This chart from the University of Missouri and Missouri Department of Conservation shows the overall population of whitetail deer in the state. We are located in Tennessee, but used this chart because it is clear and precise.

They marked turning points that had a significant impact on deer, and we marked the point where coyotes experienced a massive nationwide population boom. Beginning in around the 1950s, coyotes took advantage of the loss of larger predators and spread rapidly through the West, then crossed the Mississippi and moved into the East, where they filled the niche left by their cousins the wolves.

At no point in the coyote’s expansion did whitetail deer become extinct or even endangered. Instead, habitat changes (and a lack of larger predators) have allowed deer to flourish like never before. Today, deer are frequent victims of car collisions in areas where they are overpopulated, and many are suffering from contagious illnesses like chronic wasting disease.

These statistics exist across the United States. Whatever state you live in— and whatever your neighbors and cousins and acquaintances say— coyotes are not driving your local deer to extinction and don’t need to be killed to “protect” other wild animals. Predators hunt prey and always have, and it’s part of a balance that has held the web of life together since time immemorial.

I Found a White Fox. Is it a Pet?

A white, black, or otherwise unusual fox may not be an escaped pet.

We’ve gotten many calls from across the country about foxes with white, black, or otherwise unusual coats, with the question, “Is this someone’s pet?”

Despite their name, red foxes are some of the most variable animals on Earth, naturally coming in color phases including melanistic (black or “silver”), cross (red and black), leucistic (yellow or white with blue or brown eyes), and albino (white with pink of red eyes). Selective breeding through the fur trade created even more exotic colors, such as sapphire, gold, marble, champagne, and lilac.

In some areas, including within Tennessee, holders of special permits can breed and release captive-bred foxes into the wild. These foxes can go on to breed with wild populations, so it’s possible— though rare- for color variations previously found only in captivity to be seen in wild foxes.

The best way to determine if a fox is someone’s escaped or released pet is to look at its behavior rather than its coat. A red fox raised as a pet will usually lack the natural wariness of humans seen in wild foxes. They may approach humans fearlessly looking for food or seem unfazed by large dogs. A pet fox released to the wild may also be underweight since it may be unable to hunt well on its own.

If you’re concerned that a fox in your area may be an escaped or released pet, please touch base with rehabilitators and animal control in your immediate area for guidance identifying the individual and capturing it if needed. If your fox neighbor is simply a wild critter with an usual coat, it’s best to leave it alone to live in freedom.