By Chuck Nottingham
Probably since we dwelled in caves, children have found "abandoned" baby animals and "rescued" them.
I was no different. A completely broken-hearted eight-year-old, I was ordered to return my new-found, snapping, snarling, coyote pup to its den. Even though I'd had to hold "Shep" in Grandad's thick-cuffed welding gloves to keep needle teeth from flaying me, I was positive the little coyote would one day make a fine sheep dog.
My kids are the same. The spotted fawn they christened (what else?) "Bambi" was tearfully returned to the spot from which his mother "ran away 'cause she didn't care."
Likewise, the "orphaned" golden eaglet was sent back up to its nest atop a tall ponderosa before it could even get a name and just in time before both "dead" parents swooped angrily home.
The same will happen to any "saved" robins and blackbird babies this spring, despite tears and pleadings from kids whose soft hearts tend to overrule what's best for both them and their animal counterparts.
"Leave 'em be." Every spring's on-going lesson for every generation is to leave wildlife young as it's found. The instruction may fall on sad ears, but the message is necessary to repeat again and again.
For one thing, it's the law. Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks information officer Bill Thomas advises, "It is illegal to possess or remove from the wild any game animal, game bird, songbird, fur-bearer, or bird of prey. State law also prohibits people from having wild animals that may have rabies, such as coyotes, foxes, raccoons, and skunks."
People believing wild animals have been abandoned or injured should notify their local FWP directly or through their county sheriffs, as only state biologists and officers are authorized to handle wildlife. Fines for violating increasingly tougher wildlife laws are no longer pocket change.
Another compelling reason for leaving wildlife unmolested is the policy is the optimum ethical treatment and management. It's best for the individual baby and for wildlife in general.
Almost without fail, the gosling, calf, kit, or cub was never really abandoned by its goose, cow, vixen, or sow. Most often, the baby was secreted while the mother foraged for food. Other times, she is nearby, chased off by the human who discovered the "discarded" baby.
Some wild mothers try trickery to lead potential molesters away. Many of us have seen a killdeer limping pathetically in the distance, shamming a broken wing because we're too close to her nest. She'd like to divert our attention and lure us farther away. Unfortunately, some rationalize that since she's injured, she won't be able to care for her babies. Not true. It's all an act. Other birds and animals have similar strategies.
A last reason is safety for our own young.
Animals have diseases. Baby mammals can seem perfectly healthy, yet be infected with deadly rabies.
Many disease-free animals have ticks, fleas, and mites which are NOT disease-free. In the case of mice, feces of some has been found to transmit deadly hantavirus. If kids forget and touch wild animals, they should immediately wash and be inspected for bites and vermin.
Last, but far from least, many animals do not adhere to meek and altruistic stereotypes propagated by Hollywood scriptwriters whose idea of the wild may be poolside action at Tahoe Lodge. Most animals have antlers, horns, teeth, beaks, talons, claws, and hooves nature's arsenal for defense of their young. The joking reference to "mad mother hen" can be a nightmare for the child attacked. Many animals can and will inflict serious damage on those molesting their young.
It's smartest and safest to leave 'em be.