Last Updated: May 2016
A common type of call we receive are related to baby wildlife. People find baby wildlife in their garden, under their deck, in the park with no sign of the mother. When you come across a sick, injured or orphaned animal you instinctively want to help. As advocates for wildlife we always recommend that wildlife be left undisturbed unless it is injured or TRULY an orphaned baby animal.
If you find an injured wild animal call Toronto Animal Services (TAS) or 416-338-PAWS (7297)
1. Before acting, check if baby animal is orphaned
You need to ensure that the “orphaned baby animal” is definitely orphaned before helping. Many baby animals that are found alone are not stray. It is easy to think that a baby raccoon or squirrel is abandoned when in fact their parents are still caring for them. There are many reasons why a baby raccoon or baby squirrel may be lying at the bottom of a tree or outside their nest buy more often than not, the mother will return. If you find the nest but it is not intact it still doesn’t mean the baby is orphaned. Mother raccoon / squirrels often have a few nests she can carry them to if the nest is unsafe or not intact.
Unless you are certain that the parent is no longer caring for the baby wildlife animal, it is advised to take steps to make sure the parent is gone prior to taking the young away. A baby wildlife animal with it’s mother ensures the best care. When young wildlife are inadvertently removed from their parents, their likelihood of survival decreases. This even applies to expert care.
Interesting Fact: Although squirrels rarely interact, they learn who their nearby relatives are by hearing their unique calls. If they fail to hear a relative’s calls for a few days, they may investigate and rescue orphans.
2. Things to keep in mind when you find baby wildlife
- The first 24 to 48 hours after a wild orphaned animal is found is the most critical. They usually have been without food or water for a while and are confused and afraid.
- Depending on the species will depend on when the mother will return.
- Raccoon are active in the evenings/night time
- Squirrels are active during the day
- Opossums are nocturnal
- Skunks are nocturnal
If you’ve found a baby raccoon, the mother raccoon will most likely return in the evening/night hours. Put a hot water bottle wrapped in a towel in a box and put the babies on the towel to keep them warm. Use gloves, like gardening gloves to lift the babies. If you find the raccoon during the day put the box in a dark warm place like your garage, free of neighborhood pets and children. This will keep the raccoon babies safe until the evening. You can fold the flaps of the box over to keep them warm. Leave the box at the bottom of the tree near the nest, or at the bottom of a tree near to where they were found. In the evening and the mother raccoon will be able to open the box and retrieve them that night.
Myth: Mothers will abandon their babies if they smell humans on them. (this only applies to some animal species).
Mother squirrels will retrieve their babies during the day, not at night. Again place the babies in a blanket in a box and place them near the area where they were found or at the bottom of the tree below the nest. Try to place the box that allows the babies to stay warm and avoid the elements.
Keep your distance from the box and check every few hours to see if the mother has retrieved them. The mother will not come out if she senses danger.
Do not feed the babies!
It is highly advised not to feed the babies but to call a wildlife rehabilitator. In the instance where it is necessary to feel the wildlife animal, ensure you have the proper guidance from a professional.
3. Who To Call
If the orphaned babies are not retrieved in 6-8 hrs you should call a wildlife rehabilitation center for advice.
If you are based in Toronto GTA contact Toronto Wildlife Centre or 416-631-0662. If you are based outside Toronto GTA this map here should indicate your closest wildlife rehabilitation center or you can call us on 1-800-981-0330, we can provide free advice on what to do next, however we do not rehabilitate wildlife.
It is not recommended for an inexperienced unliscened person to attempt to hand raise an orphaned animal. Not only is it discouraged, it is illegal! You are aloud to sustain an orphan for a few days before it can be transferred to a rehabilitation center.
Here is a report in GuelphMercury about a Wellington resident who found three baby raccoon. The lady phoned a rehabilitation center who wouldn’t help until she was sure the babies were truly orphaned. This is very important as the chances for baby animals survival decrease if taken away from their mother. Ensuring they are truly orphaned is a tough but necessary step.