Don't touch wild babies

Resist the temptation to rescue the nest of tiny bunnies or the spotted fawn you may find nestled in the tall grass. More than likely, mom will be right back.

Those are words of caution that the veterinarians and technicians at the Animal Care & Laser Center try to impress upon the public each spring as baby creatures multiply all over Whidbey Island. The majority of the helpless, but adorable animals are better off without human intervention.

“Our message,” said hospital administrator Bryan Williams, “is please don’t interfere with nature.”

Veterinarian Eric Anderson started the Wildlife Care Clinic, which is run out of the Oak Harbor Animal Care & Laser Center, with several other community members 22 years ago. The clinic, which relies largely on volunteer labor within the clinic, has state and federal certification to care for wildlife. Last year, the clinic dealt with 300 wild animals, from bald eagles to baby cottontails.

The basic philosophy of the clinic, Anderson explained, is to help animals that were harmed by human actions, whether directly or indirectly. That could mean caring for an owl shot by a hunter or infant crow the cat dragged in. Yet too often, he said, kind-hearted but misguided people bring in baby animals that they think have been abandoned.

Pia Carruth, a technician in training, has become the staff’s expert at dealing with baby rabbits. Last year she raised and released 65 bunnies. She said the mother cottontail usually only feeds the young about once a day, so people who find nests often assume the babies have been abandoned.

Unfortunately, the average survival rate of pre-weaned rabbits is only about 10 percent. Carruth said she’s able to save about 80 percent of the rabbits, but it takes a lot of work and knowledge. She has researched and talked to other wildlife rehabilitators to figure out how best to raise the young.

Carruth brings the babies home with her and feeds them a special formulation, complete with a special enzyme mixture similar to what the young would have received from their mothers.

While she obviously loves caring for the helpless babies, Carruth said she would much prefer that people just left them alone. “They have a much better chance out there,” she said.

But there are times when human intervention is necessary to save wild animals.

Veterinarian technician Amy Troccoli, for example, struggled to bottle feed twin two-day-old fawns at the clinic Thursday. The wobbly-legged babies were rescued after their mother was chased by dogs and ran into a fence, breaking her neck. The little deer squeak when they get upset, sounding like someone squeezing a rubber ducky.

Troccoli said they will raise the fawns until they get old enough to be taken to a rehabilitation center in Arlington. The deer will end up being released into a refuge area.

Veterinarian Celina Hatt said the problem with raising young deer and other animals is that they get accustomed to people. Without the natural fear, wild animals are in much greater danger and can become pests.

If you have a question about what to do about a wild animal, Anderson advises people to call the Animal Care & Laser Center before touching anything. The number is 679-6796.

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