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Experts offer advice on how to deal with orphan, injured animals

Staff Photo: Sue Ann Kuhn-Smith
Dr. Tarah Hadley, executive director of Atlanta Wild Animal Rescue Effort, administers aid to a baby bunny.

Staff Photo: Sue Ann Kuhn-Smith Dr. Tarah Hadley, executive director of Atlanta Wild Animal Rescue Effort, administers aid to a baby bunny.

What do you do when you find a baby bird that’s fallen from its nest? What if you see a fawn that’s curled up in the brush, its mother no where in sight?

With spring here, baby wild animals are stretching their wings and getting steady on their legs, and the Georgia Department of Natural Resources recommends just letting the little ones and their mothers and fathers go about their business.

“It may not be what people want to hear but my advice is to just leave the animal alone. It tugs at people’s heart strings to see an injured wildlife individual but nature has a way of taking care of the weak and feeble,” said Don McGowan, a biologist with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources.

“That injured animal could become a food source to a predator, which is how nature works. As a biologist, that is my first recommendation is to leave it alone and let nature take its course.”

The only exception to that rule, said McGowan, is if the species is threatened or endangered, and it would be rare to see an animal in that category in Rockdale or Newton counties.

“We’ve had some bald eagles seen, and there’s an outside chance of a peregrine falcon,” said McGowan.

The biologist said lately his department has fielded a high volume of calls for fawns.

“People often see them by themselves and they think it’s abandoned or the doe is killed. In reality, that doe is probably somewhere in the area. Once you take this fawn, you’re disrupting that natural fawn-mother bond,” said McGowan.

As far as baby birds are concerned, if one falls out of is nest, it’s perfectly acceptable to put it back in the nest. It’s a myth that the mother won’t feed it once its been touched by humans.

McGowan said it’s imperative that people keep their pets restrained, as many injuries to wildlife occur from attacks by cats and dogs.

For those who feel compelled to call for help when they find an injured or orphaned wild animal, there is a network of wildlife rehabilitators licensed by the state of Georgia who can care for the animals, said McGowan.

To find licensed Georgia wildlife rehabilitators, visit www.georgiawildlife.com, click on “commercial license and special permits,” then click on “special permit unit,” and under “wildlife rehabilitation,” click on “wildlife rehabilitator list.”

Wildlife rehabilitators are not paid by the state, and finance care for the animals themselves. Those calling a rehabilitator for help may find that the caretaker is filled to capacity with other animals. The public must also be must be willing to drive the animal to the location where the rehabilitator lives.

A unique local resource for wildlife rehabilitation is Atlanta Wild Animal Rescue Effort or AWARE. A nonprofit that is located at 4158 Klondike Road, just over the Rockdale County line in DeKalb County about one mile from the Arabia Mountain Nature Preserve, AWARE is an organization devoted to preserving native wildlife through rescue and rehabilitation, and educating the public about wildlife concerrns, said Dr. Tarah Hadley, AWARE executive director and wildlife veterinarian.

The organization fields up to 90 calls a day from the public, that range form inquiring if AWARE can remove coyotes to what to do about an orphaned baby bunny.

Hadley said AWARE volunteers return phone calls within a few hours. They talk to concerned citizens, evaluate if a rescue is necessary and talk them through the steps necessary to transport the animal safely to AWARE.

“It helps because you can kind of triage and work with people and instruct safe capture and restraint,” said Hadley.

In 2011, AWARE treated 1,600 animals. A sampling of those entering AWARE include deer, rabbits, squirrels, bobcats, foxes, coyotes, turtles, opossums and raptors.

“The unique thing about (AWARE) which is different from other wildlife centers is that we do see all species of wildlife,” said Hadley.

AWARE treats as many animals as it can, but if it is above capacity, staff will recommend other rehabilitators in the area.

Some of the animals AWARE treats are orphaned babies; others have been injured by cars, falls or attacks from other animals. Common ailments include broken bones and eye injuries.

Hadley said she and her staff stress to callers that non-licensed individuals cannot treat or raise the animals themselves; keeping wildlife without being a licensed wildlife rehabilitator is illegal.

“Our advice is given with not just the best interest of the animal but also the people,” said Hadley.

AWARE keeps a number of rehabilitated animals that cannot be released back into the wild at the facility on Klondike Road. Those wishing to see the facility and the animals may take advantage of the public tours on Saturdays at 1 and 3 p.m. and Sunday at 1 p.m.

To reach AWARE or to make a donation, call 678 418-1111 and leave a message; someone will respond to the call within a few hours.