We humans have bleeding hearts. We see what looks like an orphaned baby animal, and we immediately want to help it. But the reality is that wild animal wee ones rarely need human assistance. Perhaps it's because human babies are so vulnerable that it's almost unfathomable to us that other species don't hover over their babies 24/7. But the truth is that being left alone, even at a very young age, is an important developmental step for many species.
There's a variety of reasons why animals leave their offspring. Turtles do not need parental care to survive, and many species that are hunted as prey, like deer and rabbits, leave their babies to avoid drawing the attention of predators. Many times, if you see the baby, the mom may be hiding nearby where you can't see her.
Not only could the mother still be alive and well, and adequately caring for the baby, there are a number of other reasons why you shouldn't interfere with wildlife. The young could imprint on human caregivers and feel unnaturally comfortable around people, which could be detrimental to their survival in the wild.
Humans also cannot teach wild animals everything they need to know to survive on their own or feed them a proper diet like the mother would. Plus, the babies can carry diseases that are harmful to humans and any domestic animals in the home. And if those reasons don't deter you, it is actually illegal to raise wildlife without a proper permit.
How to Spot an Orphan
So how can you tell if the furry/feathery/scaly baby is actually in need of help or just waiting for mom to come home with dinner? According to the Wildlife Medical Clinic at the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine, there are five telltale signs that a wildlife baby needs help.
1. Is the baby crying? Babies that feel safe and well fed will not make noises, so as not to attract predators. If they are making a lot of noise, chances are that they have been orphaned.
2. Are there bugs on the baby? Seeing lots of insects on a baby means that mom isn't around to take care of and groom the baby.
3. Is the baby cold? If you see a wildlife baby shivering, it is most likely without a parent to keep it warm.
4. Is the baby dehydrated? Young animals tend to have little fur or feathers, so if they're dehydrated, you'll be able to see their wrinkled skin.
5. Is the baby injured? If the baby is bleeding or unable to move properly, it can benefit from human help, even if mom is around.
If you find a baby that you truly believe needs assistance, call your local wildlife rehabilitator. These clinics, centers and individuals have the knowledge and permits to properly care for orphaned and injured wildlife. So the next time you find a rabbit's nest in your backyard or see a baby bird by itself on a walk, definitely keep an eye on it. But nine times out of 10 you should leave it be!