Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine

Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine

Photo of a fawn © Jack R. Bartholmai

Wild animals have a place in their natural environments and are not meant to live in captivity.
© Jack R. Bartholmai

June 2010

Creature Comforts

Keep the "wild" in wildlife

Jennifer Haverly

Orphaned? Probably not.

It is common in most wildlife species for the adults to leave their young unattended for periods of time while they forage or hunt to maintain their own nutritional needs. Also, parents minimize time spent at the nest site to prevent predators from easily finding their young.

If you or someone you know picks up a wild baby that is healthy, not orphaned and has been held for less than 24 hours, place it back where it was found. It is a common misconception that human scent on a wild animal will drive the parents away. Keep cats and dogs away from the site and leave the area so the parents will feel safe enough to return.

Not suited for captivity

Wild animals have a place in their natural environments and are not meant to live a life in captivity. Most wild animals possess an innate fear of humans, a characteristic which protects them in the outdoors. In captivity, this fear of humans may lead to aggression and injury, as an animal will try to defend itself from what it perceives as a threat. Human interactions and noises associated with human activity may stress a wild animal. On the other hand, captive wild animals may become habituated to and completely dependent on humans, making subsequent reintroduction into the wild impossible.

Wild animals also have complex nutritional, physical, mental and social needs that are not easily replicated in a captive setting. In all animals, particularly young ones that are still developing, failure to meet these needs can lead to serious physiological disorders and even death.

Disease concerns

Wild animals can also carry diseases and parasites that can be transmitted to humans or domestic animals, such as rabies, salmonellosis, canine distemper, mange or intestinal roundworms. Likewise, humans and domestic animals may carry diseases to which wild animals have no natural immunity.

Against the law

Most animals are protected under state and federal laws, making it illegal to take them from the wild without proper permits and authorization. However, citizens may temporarily possess sick, injured, orphaned, or displaced wildlife for up to 24 hours for the sole purpose of transfer to an appropriately licensed individual.

Wildlife rehabilitation

If an animal is truly orphaned or appears to be sick or injured, you should contact a licensed wildlife rehabilitator immediately. Wildlife rehabilitators are licensed by the state and federal government to temporarily care for and treat wildlife with the goal of releasing them back into their natural habitat. See Wildlife Rehabilitation for a directory of wildlife rehabilitators.


  • A healthy animal's best chance of survival is to remain with its family in its natural habitat.
  • Young wild animals found alone are not necessarily orphaned.
  • Wild animals can carry diseases that can be transmissible to humans and domestic pets.
  • Human scent on a wild animal will not drive the parents away, so healthy baby animals can often be returned to their nests.
  • If an animal is in need, immediately contact a licensed wildlife rehabilitator or the DNR’s Call Center (1-888-WDNR-INFo).

For more information on wildlife commonly seen in Wisconsin and tips on determining if an animal is truly orphaned, please visit Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources and search "orphaned wildlife." Younger readers can also visit Leave Wild Animals in the Wild.

Jennifer Haverly is liaison to state wildlife rehabilitators for DNR's Bureau of Wildlife Management.