Please keep your paws off baby wildlife 

This is a message for you animal lovers out there: If you find a seemingly “abandoned” baby bird or animal, please leave it where it is. Do not consider adoption an option.

The advice comes from the NJDEP Division of Fish & Wildlife, which notes that it “receives calls every year from well-meaning individuals who have picked up everything from baby birds to small mammals, believing they have been abandoned.”

“In most cases,” the Division says, “these animals have not been abandoned, and are in fact being watched by a parent hidden nearby. Unless an animal is obviously injured or in distress, it should be left alone.”

The probability of finding such critters is high during the spring and summer seasons — even in our heavily populated Observer communities. In this area, you’re not likely to come across bear cubs (although, personally, we think that is just a matter of time). However, squirrels (and, of course, birds) abound. And groundhogs, possums, chipmunks and other small wild mammals share the territory with us.

Last week, the Division offered the following information:

• Most wildlife species in New Jersey are now, or will soon be, raising young. As part of the parenting process, the babies will sometimes be left alone for short periods of time. Taking these animals from their homes denies them critical learning experiences that will enable them to fend for themselves as they grow older. This often results in tragedy for the young wildlife.

• Wild animals may also become attached to or “imprinted” on human caregivers. They may lose their natural instincts, which will make them more susceptible to predation or injury as they mature. If this happens, the animal cannot be returned to the wild.

• Handling wild animals can also pose a health risk. Wildlife may carry parasites such as fleas, ticks or lice that can infest people, homes and pets. Wild animals can also transmit life-threatening diseases such as rabies, which has been found in New Jersey. For the protection of both people and animals, only properly trained and licensed officials are permitted to handle wildlife.

• If a healthy young animal is found, do not handle it, and keep people and pets way from it. Staying away from the young animal reduces stress and increases the chance the mother will return to care for it.

•If an animal is found that is obviously injured or orphaned, the nearest wildlife rehabilitator should be called for assistance. Wildlife rehabilitators are licensed and inspected by the Division of Fish and Wildlife to handle wildlife emergencies.

Note also: Attempting to keep wild animals as pets is illegal in New Jersey. Information about young and orphaned wildlife, including a link to a list of licensed wildlife rehabilitators, can be found at

— Karen Zautyk

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