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The Perils of Baby Animal Rescue

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With the onset of spring comes another arrival - the birth of new babies to hundreds of species of wildlife. Urban dwellers may spy a nest of newborn robins or a pair of bunnies hopping across the lawn. But one local wildlife specialist warns that just because there's no parent in sight, it's not safe to assume those babies are abandoned and need human protection. From Bay Village, ideastream's Karen Schaefer reports.

Thursday, April 21, 2005 at 8:23 am

Each year as babies in the thousands are born to squirrels, rabbits, birds and other wildlife, some of them find their way here to the Great Lakes Nature and Science Center in Bay Village. Some are injured, but many others are scooped up by soft-hearted citizens who just want to give Mother Nature a helping hand. And that, says wildlife rehabilitation specialist Megan Tadiello, can sometimes make things worse.

Megan Tadiello: In here I just had a baby rabbit come in. Funny story. So a lady and her husband were walking in the park yesterday and saw this baby rabbit and saw a crow staring at the baby rabbit. The crow came down and was about to grab the baby rabbit, so they grabbed it. And while they were holding it it jumped out of their hands and it broke both of its back legs.

Tadiello rehabilitates injured animals brought to the center. But a key aspect of her job to educate the public about the real way in which Mother Nature works.

Megan Tadiello: Not only did she do something wrong by stealing food from the crow... I mean, there's a book out there, Everybody is Somebody's Lunch. That's the way it goes in the wild. But rabbits are the hardest things to rehabilitate, even adults. I always tell people nine out of ten of them will die due to captive stress. But since it is injured, we will try to take care of it.

Each year Tadiello says she takes in more than a thousand wild animals that have been 'rescued' by local residents. She says about a third die from their injuries, while another third are successfully treated and released. But it's that final third that worries Tadiello - the healthy babies and adults someone mistakenly thought needed help.

Megan Tadiello: We're not permitted to do orphaned animals, period. So if somebody's going to leave me a healthy orphan, by our permits I have to euthanize that animal. And it just breaks my heart to have to do that. But I think in the four years that I've been here I've convinced everybody to take back the animals besides maybe one or two people.

Tadiello says she wishes more people understood that animals just don't raise their young the same way people do. She says in fact each species is different.

Megan Tadiello: Us as humans think, oh, this poor little rabbit, it needs it's mother. And that's just not true. Rabbits only stay with mom between three and five weeks. As soon as it's the size of a chipmunk and their ears are standing up, they're completely on its own. Right now is actually rabbit season. I think we've sent back maybe twelve to fifteen rabbits in the past three days.

That's why Tadiello has this advice for people who spot a animal they believe might be in distress.

Megan Tadiello: If you find a baby animal or an adult animal, if you're not sure about it, call us and let's talk about the situation. What I usually do is encourage people to give it 24 hours. And if in 24 hours usually you can tell if it's acting a little bit slower, if it's crying a lot, then you can assume that maybe mom hasn't been back. You know, nine times out of ten in the baby season, it's not going to be an injured animal.

Tadiello says it's better still to call before you attempt a rescue. She says even animals that have been rehabilitated and are judged fit to be released may have lost some essential training time while in captivity that will lessen their chances of survival. So according to Tadiello, the best policy is hands-off the wildlife.

Megan Tadiello: Let nature take its course. We don't want to be interfering with nature in any way, unless it's ill or injured."

In Bay Village, Karen Schaefer, 90.3.

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