Resist the urge to help and leave newborn wildlife alone

Len Lisenbee
Canandaigua Daily Messenger
A fawn hangs out  in the Corkscrew Regional Ecosystem Watershed on Monday, May 10, 2021.

It's that time of year once again, when spring brings us wild birds and animals that are busy nesting, rearing young, and procreating their species.

And, as in past years, some soft-hearted and well-intentioned humans will be finding young birds and animals and, thinking them to be orphaned or abandoned, take them home to be cared for.

The reality is that most of those wildlife babies are not abandoned by their mother or parents. They have simply been discovered by a human. Mamma probably knows exactly were junior is, and may even be watching from nearby cover as the human picks it up and takes it away with them.

Humans, in their desire to help the helpless, may actually be destroying an animal "family."

The hardest part to understand is that the foundling will probably face more danger in the “care” of humans than if it were left where it was found. All humans who do not have the appropriate licenses are prohibited from possessing and caring for many wild animals and birds by state and federal laws.

And with good reason. There are many good reasons for such laws.

First of all, no human can give a wild animal better care than its natural parents. There is no substitute for mother's milk, which often contains unique nutrients and antibodies for that species.

Len Lisenbee

And, the parent animals can spend all of the time necessary to teach it how to survive. Humans rarely can devote 24 hours a day to the care and feeding of a wild baby, and what could they possibly teach it?

Disease is another important factor to consider. Wild animals can be exposed to all sorts of diseases and parasites, including rabies (and ticks). This insidious disease, while less noticeable now than several years ago, is still common throughout the entire Finger Lakes region.

And, any mammal can be exposed to it. To my knowledge there has been only one human who has become infected with rabies and not received immediate treatment with vaccines and that has survived the infection. It is virtually always fatal, and can easily be spread to other family members along the way.

Fawns are the source of another problem. First, most “orphaned” or “abandoned” fawns are neither orphaned or abandoned. It is more than likely they have a mama, and she knows precisely where they are.

With the problem of Chronic Wasting Disease now in New York, the very best thing anyone can do for fawns they might find is simply to walk quietly away and leave them alone.

Few wild baby animals that are raised by humans can be successfully released to the wild. They often “imprint” themselves and then think they are human, and approach any other humans they might see.

At the same time they probably don't know how to live in the wild -- how to feed, and how to avoid predators. And all too often these wildlife babies can end up as family pets, which is a violation of existing law.

All bird species, with four exceptions, are protected by federal or state laws. No individuals can possess them unless they first have a federal and state license permitting them to do so. Fines for illegal possession can range up to $500 per bird, although a fine of $250 per bird is more common. There is also a possible jail sentence of six months for such possession.

The only humane thing to do when wild baby mammals or birds are observed is to leave them alone. They probably are not abandoned. The parents are almost always nearby.

If you should find a wild baby animal and you are absolutely certain it has been orphaned, you are allowed to render aid. The safest thing you can do is notify your local conservation officer. These dedicated individuals have been trained in how to safely handle wildlife of all sizes.

Do not, under any circumstances, touch any wild animal, regardless of its age. If the mother animal is dead, how did she die?

If she was hit by a car, was she infected with some terrible disease before being hit? If she died of unknown causes, the danger flag should be raised even higher. The chances are pretty good that any disease or parasite she had was passed on to her off-spring.

If you touch them you could be bringing tragedy to your own family.

What's at the end of this rainbow?

And now for a dumb outdoor crook tale that actually happened a few years ago but that I somehow overlooked, mainly because my files are in such a mess.

And it sure is worthy of being printed now even though it happened in 2014. It seems that fish and game officers in the Clovis, New Mexico, area received a tip that a certain individual routinely caught and kept large quantities of rainbow trout.

Their investigation resulted in enough information for them to obtain a search warrant.

So they went to the home of Bouchanh Bounsombath, 62, in Clovis with that warrant. And what they found astounded even those seasoned officers.

This yahoo was in possession of more than 1,600 rainbow trout. If you Google his name there is a photo of the seized fish that cannot be adequately described.

He “fessed up” rather quickly. It seems he caught those trout in Green Acres Lake and Denis Chaves Pond, both northwest of Clovis. Both bodies of water are routinely stocked by the New Mexico Department of Fish and Game. And he was apparently there shortly after the stocking truck left in order to harvest that bounty.

Now under state regulations anglers are permitted to catch and keep up to five trout per day. They are allowed to have up to 10 trout in possession at their homes, too.

Bounsombath’s violation was so egregious that the officers took him straight to the courthouse. And he pleaded guilty to charges of unlawful possession of rainbow trout, exceeding the daily bag limit on multiple occasions, and exceeding the possession limit.

This bust was made possible because of an anonymous tip to the NM Operation Game Thief hotline.

And what makes this case even more interesting is that this guy was busted for the same crimes, committed on the same bodies of water, in 2013.

Len Lisenbee is the Daily Messenger’s Outdoor Writer. Contact him at