TAMPA –It’s a natural impulse for many animal lovers to try to help the baby bunnies or squirrels they find on the ground this time of year. But experts from BluePearl Veterinary Partners say it’s best to leave them alone.
While the babies may appear to have been abandoned, the parents will probably be coming back to look for them.
“It’s not unusual for a mother rabbit or squirrel to leave during the day to search for food,” said Victoria Dallam, wildlife coordinator and veterinary technician with BluePearl Veterinary Partners hospital in Tampa. “The babies are going to be much better off with their mothers than they will be with a rehabilitator.”
The same is true for baby birds. It may be alarming to see them out of the nest but Dallam said it’s not uncommon for them to spend time on the ground as they grow up and learn to fend for themselves.
“It’s all a part of the learning process for them,” she said.
If you encounter wildlife that has been injured, call your local veterinarian or BluePearl for guidance on what to do next. You can also find a list of rehabilitation groups on the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FFWCC) website or call their 24-hour hotline at 888.404.3922.
Also, if you see turtles or tortoises attempting to cross a road, it’s okay to pick them up and help them get to the other side, Dallam added. Once they’re safely across, leave them alone.
During the summer months, the Tampa BluePearl hospital receives as many as 10 animals from the wild each day, including squirrels, rabbits, birds and opossums. The hospital can’t accept animals who carry and transmit rabies, such as skunks, foxes, raccoons or bats.
Once the animals have been treated, BluePearl veterinarians and staff work with local rehabilitation groups to continue care and facilitate their release back into the wild or to protected sanctuaries.
Perhaps the biggest mistake some people make is trying to adopt wildlife as pets. The situation rarely works out well for either the animal or the adopter. It is also illegal to own some species of wildlife without a permit from FFWCC.
“Wildlife make terrible pets,” said Dallam. “It’s such a disservice to them. They may be cute and cuddly as babies, but once they hit maturity, you’re in for some problems.”