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Understanding Baby Mammals

squirrelBy Elena Fox, Licensed Wildlife Rehabilitator

Baby mammals should be regarded in much the same way as birds -- remember that mammal moms can leave their nests unattended for many hours. Unless you see obvious injuries or know for a fact that a nest of baby bunnies, or squirrels, or other small mammals has been orphaned, leave them undisturbed. Their best chance of survival is to be cared for by their mother. If their nest has been destroyed, place the babies in a box in a safe place near where they were found and let their mother find them. You may never see her, but check on them in 24 hours and if they are warm and plump, she is doing her job. Remember, their mother's milk is vastly different than anything we can use to substitute, and it changes composition each day, as the babies get older. A mother hare can feed her young once in 12 hours, but we must feed orphans every 45 minutes around the clock to approximate her rich milk.

Two very special cases cause a great deal of confusion in the spring -- fawns and seal pups. In nearly all cases both should be left alone. Both species of babies are routinely left unattended for 6, 10, even 15 hours at a time. A fawn may lie for hours beside a busy road and even fail to respond to your approach. This is completely normal. The mother is likely nearby watching for you to leave.

The same applies to seal pups; a pup alone in a small tidal pool for a day could appear to be cause for concern. The pup may even seem lethargic or "sick," but, as with the fawn, this is normal behavior and the mom will likely return to care for her baby. With seals, an added incentive to help you resist interfering is the law. Marine mammals are protected and individuals can be fined into the many thousands of dollars for "molesting" them, which can mean coming within 100 YARDS. Give them a wide berth for both your sakes.

opossumYou can help most by educating other people. You can also help keep dogs and children away from the area, and you can talk yourself into staying away too. Your attentions can place the baby in danger by frightening the mother and attracting predators. It is hard to do nothing when we suspect an animal needs help. But, we should err on the side of caution when a misread of the situation could put us between a wild mother and her baby.

If you have concerns or questions -- If you find a baby and you aren't sure if you should do something, call us for assistance. We care about them too, and together we can give wildlife the greatest chance of living a free and vigorous life.

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