By Winslow Umberger
It’s the golden anniversary of Earth Day. Over the past 50 years, more of us are living mindfully with an eye on protecting the overall health of the planet. This mindset is even more important today as the region continues to grow, and animal/human contact increases as we advance on animal habitats. It’s “What on Earth? day,” when you have a personal encounter with a wild animal in need. Your responsibility to the planet becomes very real at that moment. Will you know what to do?
With baby season in full swing here in the mountains, this scenario is likely. Knowing a few things about the wild lives we share space with will help. “First, you need to determine if that baby animal you find in your backyard or in the woods actually needs help,” says Savannah Trantham, co-founder of Appalachian Wild. “Was it stowed away in a safe place or is it actually hurt? To prevent ‘rescuing’ young who don’t need rescuing, watch the animal from a distance. Just because an infant is alone does not mean it is an orphan. Many species of mammals, such as deer and rabbits, are away from their babies for long stretches of time during the day. If mom and dad are around, they will continue to take care of the baby.”
Trantham also advises:
• If the animal appears cold or weak, look for a nest and other siblings to place it back with. Baby squirrels must be kept warm, but mom may come back for her babies if you place them at the base of a tree and observe out of sight. If she doesn’t come back within an hour, they need rescuing.
• If it is a young bird, it is probably learning to fly. Place it back in the closest bush or tree and watch from a distance. Keep your pets indoors during this time.
• If the animal appears injured, contact a wildlife rehabilitator for advice on what to do next. Calling Appalachian Wild’s hotline at 828.633.6364 or emailing wildlife@AppalachianWild.org is a great place to start.
• If you need to care for a young wild animal until it can be taken to a wildlife rehabilitator, the most important things to remember are to keep it warm and do not try to give it any food or water
Always make your safety a priority before endeavoring a rescue. Do not attempt a roadway rescue if you can’t park safely and don’t try to capture an animal if you aren’t sure how to proceed. “All wild animals are going to try to protect themselves, even if they are injured,” says Trantham. “Seek the advice of a wildlife rehabilitator first and never touch or handle a rabies vector species—foxes, raccoons, bats, skunks and coyotes.”
Earth Day is about bringing awareness to how our activities impact the planet. If an animal is in distress, we can and should try to alleviate its suffering. The wise naturalist understands that nature is not always pretty and refrains from interfering with the natural order. Trying to rectify the damage we humans cause (with vehicles, construction projects, yard maintenance or recreational activities, for example) by getting a wild animal the care it needs is the least we can do to mitigate our impact on the natural world. Every time we help a wild animal that is suffering due to human causes, we are helping restore the natural balance. Isn’t this what Earth Day is all about?
Winslow Umberger is head of outreach for Appalachian Wild. To learn more or to donate supplies from the wish list, visit AppalachianWild.org/wishlist.