Edmonton

Don't be a kidnapper: Leave the babies be, wildlife expert says

It's an unwelcome omen of spring. Baby animals — usually wide-eyed hares and trembling fawns — unwittingly kidnapped from their mothers.

'Our efforts pale in comparison to the natural thing'

Officials are reminding people to leave baby hares and other newborn animals alone if seen unattended in the wild. (Calgary Wildlife Rehabilitation Society)

It's an unwelcome omen of spring. Baby animals — usually wide-eyed hares and trembling fawns — unwittingly kidnapped from their mothers.

The young are snatched from the safety of underground burrows and secret hiding places and brought in from the wild.

Every spring, wildlife rescue and rehabilitation agencies across Alberta are inundated with the fragile creatures.

The culprits for these kidnappings? Humans who believe the animals have been orphaned and need help.

"We call them accidental kidnappings," said Dale Gienow, a manager with Edmonton-based Wild North — Northern Alberta Wildlife Rescue and Rehabilitation.

"These are cases when people, who have their heart in the right place, rescue an animal that really doesn't need rescuing."

More harm than good

Despite their good intentions, they do more harm than good, Gienow said in an interview Monday with CBC Radio's Edmonton AM.

Raising wild animals in captivity is incredibly difficult and time-consuming. The animals are extremely vulnerable to stress and must be fed around the clock. In many cases, they fail to thrive.

"If you come across a baby animal that you think is abandoned, take the time to see if mom is going to come back," Gienow said. "Make sure that they're orphaned because mom is the best at raising her young.

"Although we do our best at Wild North, our efforts pale in comparison to the natural thing."

Most of the baby animals brought in from the wild each spring don't need rescuing, Gienow said.

If you see a baby animal that appears to be alone, don't give into the temptation to scoop them up, he said. Mother is likely nearby.

Leaving young by themselves is a strategy employed by many mammals, including the animals people are most likely to come across in Edmonton such as deer and hares, Gienow said.

To keep her young safe, a doe will leave her fawn in a secluded area, often for as long as 12 hours, distracting predators away from her baby while she forages for food.

To ensure their own scents don't attract predators, mother hares leave their young alone for most of the day.

"In all of these cases, mom will leave them for an extended period of time on their own," Gienow said.

"The strategy there, of course, is that if a predator sees a large animal and they find the baby nearby, the baby is lunch.

"Nature does a very good job at providing for mother's ability to look after their young."

Gienow said Edmontonians concerned about the welfare of a wild animal can call the agency's wildlife hotline at 780-914-4118. 

With files from Kim Nakrieko

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