Experts Share Tips on Helping Wild Baby Animals


| LAST UPDATE 06/08/2023

By Stanley Wickens
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Baby animals are adorable, and it's tempting to help when we see one that appears to be in trouble. But well-meaning humans can do more harm than good, especially when it comes to wild baby animals. They may not actually need human assistance. So, how to tell if a wild baby animal needs your help, and what to do about it?

“Unfortunately, the calf’s behavior on roads and around people was hazardous, so rangers had to intervene,” the service said in a press statement. The man’s handling of the calf, it said, resulted in the animal’s death. It's unknown whether the animal would have been eventually reunited with its family. To assess such situations, National Geographic asked experts for tips on interacting with young animals, whether you’re in the remote wilderness or your own backyard. If a person approaches a baby animal, it may flee and create new and stressful hurdles for a parent trying to locate its young. Instead, grab a pair of binoculars. Those parents likely leave their offspring alone to minimize disturbances that would catch the attention of predators. Babies are also sometimes fragile, and you don’t want to increase their stress by handling them unnecessarily.

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Consider if the animal’s injured and how long it’s been alone. When an animal’s visibly injured, the best approach is to call a local game and fish department, veterinarian, or a licensed local wildlife rehabilitator to get advice about next steps. Never try to kill an injured animal. You may not be able to do it humanely and you may also be breaking the law. An often-repeated myth is that handling a baby animal, particularly a bird, may cause its mother to refuse to take it back. Experts do not know of any animal species that would be rejected by its kind solely because of its contact with a human. When animal parents do abandon a baby, the reasons may include the length of time the baby was away from its family and other stressors, such as food availability.

If you accidentally knock a bird’s nest out of a tree or observe a baby bird fall, you typically can gently return the bird to its nest. Fledgling birds should always be left where they are. Their parents may not be visible, but they are likely nearby watching their baby learn to fly or caring for their other young. Remember that it's difficult to watch and sometimes injured animals will just die or become food for an animal trying to feed its own family. An animal being preyed upon by another is part of nature—even if it’s difficult to watch.

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