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We've all done it before. You see a cute, seemingly hungry
animal in the wild and instantly start thinking of names and
working out how you will care for your new pet. But while having a
pet deer may seem like a novel idea at first, feeding and caring
for wildlife can be not only dangerous for you and the animal, but
in many cases it is also against the law.
"Wildlife may carry a number of diseases and parasites that can
be easily transmitted to humans," said Dr. Alice Blue-McLendon,
Clinical Associate Professor at the Texas A&M College of
Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Science (CVM) and director of
the Winnie Carter Wildlife Center. "Small creatures like foxes and
skunks should never be handled because they are known to be
carriers of the rabies virus."
In many cases, it is also against state and federal law to keep
wildlife species as pets. "Multiple permits, such as those listed
out on the Texas Parks and
Wildlife website, are needed in order to keep and foster
wildlife," said Blue-McLendon. "These permits are usually reserved
for educational facilities, zoos, and rehabilitators."
Feeding wildlife is also seen by many as a controversial
subject, as it attracts animals into urban environments. "This
contributes to a rise in vehicle collisions with wild animals as
they move closer to roads and nearby homes to be near the food
source," said Blue-McLendon.
Feeding can also habituate dangerous animals into becoming
comfortable in residential or recreational settings. "Wildlife
species that are hand raised, like the white-tailed buck, tend to
be more dangerous in the wild due to the absence of their fear of
humans," said Blue-McLendon. "Wild animals are named that for a
reason. Even if the creature is raised by humans, it will still
have most of its wild tendencies."
The best thing you can do when you see wildlife is to walk away.
In the case of an injured animal, contact your local animal control
or wildlife veterinarian to find the wildlife rehabilitator closest
to your location.
"Unless the animal is in obvious distress, is ill, or is in
immediate danger, it's best to just leave them be," said
Blue-McLendon. "An all too common scenario is of people finding
fawns that they believe are orphaned, when in reality they are
actually hidden by their mother as she searches for food. The
mother will return to nurse them, so as long as the fawn is not
distressed or injured, it should be left alone."
If an animal appears ill or injured, it should be taken
immediately to a wildlife veterinarian or a licensed rehabilitator.
The Texas Parks and Wildlife website contains a list of local
licensed rehabilitators, and the Zoological Medicine Service
through the Texas A&M CVM provides services for injured
wildlife as well.
"Rehabilitators will give the animal first aid while the
veterinarian arrives, and work closely with the veterinarian to
keep the animal healthy as it recovers," said Blue-McLendon. "If
you must transport wildlife, it is vital to take precautions to
avoid contracting any disease or parasite from the animal. People
should wear gloves at all times, wrap the animal in a towel, and
avoid the animal's mouth at all times."
The Winnie Carter Wildlife Center at
Texas A&M University offers courses to students aimed at
teaching them about the husbandry, management and behavior of
captive wildlife and exotic animal species.
Pet Talk is a service of the College of Veterinary Medicine
& Biomedical Sciences, Texas A&M University. Stories can be
viewed on the Web at vetmed.tamu.edu/pettalk. Suggestions for
future topics may be directed to firstname.lastname@example.org
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