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University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

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News from the
College of Veterinary Medicine
University of Illinois
3225 Vet. Med. Basic Sciences Bldg.
2001 S. Lincoln Ave.
Urbana, IL 61802
June 8, 2011

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Contact: Chris Beuoy

Stop the Wild Orphan Train

URBANA - Spring may be winding down, but baby season for wild animals is still going strong, and so is the number of supposed wild "orphans" brought to the University of Illinois Wildlife Medical Clinic.

"We are still sending more than 40 babies to a rehabber every week," says Anne Rivas, a veterinary student who co-manages the clinic. "We are just in the peak of baby season, which will last through September."

Rivas says approximately half of the orphaned animals brought to the clinic, which is housed in the Veterinary Teaching Hospital's Small Animal Clinic, are perfectly healthy. Some of these animals have been removed from their nest to avoid such dangers as the family pet or tree removal. But, unfortunately, well-meaning people often kidnap baby animals that are being cared for by their parents.

"Oftentimes people believe the young birds or rabbits have been abandoned because there is no sign of the mother," explains Rivas. "In fact, you don't see the mother because mothers protect their young by not drawing attention to the nest. Plus, in some species, such as rabbits, mothers normally spend no more than 5 minutes a day at the nest."

Rivas and others at the Wildlife Medical Clinic work to get the message out every year: Unless the young animal is clearly ill or injured - that is, appears to have broken a bone, is very cold, is bleeding, or has been attacked by a predator - its best chance for survival is with its mother.

"Even in the best possible scenarios, humans will be nowhere near as proficient in care for these delicate little animals as their mothers will. Survival rates for animals raised in captivity can be significantly lower than those raised in a natural setting," Rivas says.

Another common misconception is that mothers reject a baby that has been touched by human hands. The truth is, if a baby animal has fallen or been removed from its nest, you can certainly pick up the baby and return it to its nest, if possible, or place it in a shallow box with grass and place it near where it was found (in a tree for birds, on the ground for baby mammals).

If you have any questions about orphaned animals, contact your local veterinarian or read more about wild orphans at the website of the University of Illinois Wildlife Medical Clinic at The phone number for the clinic is 217-244-1195.