Spring’s Gentle Reminder: The Importance of Leaving Wildlife Untouched

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As the frost of winter melts away, spring in Ontario ushers in a season of renewal and birth. This period, extending into the early summer marks a critical time for wildlife as it is the birthing and hatching season for many species. During these months, it is not uncommon to encounter young animals, from fawns and ducklings to rabbit kits and bird fledglings, exploring their new world. The sight can indeed warm the heart and often stirs a primal urge to interact with or assist these seemingly vulnerable creatures. However, the guiding principle should be observation from a distance. This article delves into the reasons why we should resist the urge to intervene with Ontario’s young wildlife, emphasizing the benefits of non-interference for the animals and our ecosystem.

Understanding Young Wildlife 

Spring and early summer signal the arrival of new life in the wild. This vibrant season welcomes a myriad of young animals, each embarking on a journey of growth and survival. The landscapes of Ontario, diverse in their ecosystems, provide a nurturing ground for these creatures, making it a critical period for wildlife and observers alike (Procyon Wildlife, 2021).

Types of Young Wildlife Commonly Found

Ontario’s natural habitats are bustling with activity during these months, playing host to a variety of young animals. Fawns, with their spindly legs and dappled coats, are perhaps among the most heartwarming sights. Hidden in the underbrush, they wait patiently for their mothers to return from foraging. Ducklings, in contrast, take to the water with remarkable instinct, following their mother in a perfect line across ponds and lakes. Rabbit kits, barely visible in their well-concealed nests, depend on the scanty visits from their mother for nourishment. Bird fledglings, too, make their presence known, often found hopping on the ground as they master the art of flight. Each species follows a unique path to adulthood, shaped by the inherent instincts that guide their early days (Ontario SPCA and Humane Society, 2019).

Natural Behaviors of Young Animals and Their Parents

Understanding the natural behaviours of these young animals and their parents is crucial in appreciating why human intervention is often unnecessary and potentially harmful. Many young animals, such as fawns and rabbit kits, are left alone for long periods. This behaviour is not indicative of abandonment but is a survival strategy. Predators are less likely to discover these young animals when they are quiet and still, and the parents are away. Meanwhile, the parent animals are usually not far off, keeping a vigilant watch over their young from a distance. This natural strategy minimizes the chances of drawing attention to the young and maximizes their chances of survival (Čapkun-Huot & Tissier, 2022).

The sight of a fledgling on the ground, struggling to fly, might trigger a well-meaning desire to help. However, this is a normal part of development for many bird species. The parents are often nearby, continuing to feed the fledgling and encouraging its attempts at flight. Interference at this stage can disrupt this crucial learning process and may even lead to the parents abandoning their young due to the disturbance (Jones, 2018).

The Risks of Human Intervention

Interacting with young wildlife can often seem like a compassionate response to what appears as vulnerability or abandonment. However, well-intentioned actions can inadvertently pose significant risks to these animals and even disrupt the delicate balance of nature. Understanding the potential consequences of human intervention is crucial for the protection and preservation of Ontario’s wildlife (TFN Wildlife Protection Committee, 2022).

Misconceptions About “Abandoned” Young Animals

A common misconception that prompts human intervention is the belief that young animals found alone are abandoned and in need of rescue. This belief stems from a misunderstanding of the natural behaviours exhibited by many wild animals. For example, deer often leave their fawns concealed in vegetation while they forage, returning only periodically to nurse. Similarly, young birds found on the ground may be in the process of learning to fly, under the watchful eye of their parents from afar (Rossos, 2014).

These strategies minimize the risk of predation and are a normal part of wildlife upbringing. Young animals are often left alone specifically to avoid drawing attention to them. Interfering during these critical periods can cause more harm than good, leading to unnecessary stress for the animal and potentially disrupting its natural development and survival skills (Willette et al., 2023).

Consequences of Human Interaction

Human interaction, no matter how well-meaning, can lead to several negative outcomes for wildlife. Physical contact with humans can stress young animals, leading to shock or even death. Additionally, human scent can deter parents from returning to their offspring, increasing the risk of true abandonment. Feeding young wildlife can also have detrimental effects, as it can lead to malnutrition or dependency on humans for food, inhibiting their ability to forage or hunt as they mature (Zulkifli, 2013).

Moreover, moving or attempting to “rescue” young animals can remove them from their natural habitat, depriving them of essential learning experiences and the care of their parents. This separation can result in the loss of critical survival skills, making it difficult or impossible for them to be reintroduced into the wild (Benz-Schwarzburg & Wrage, 2023).

Legal Implications of Interfering with Wildlife in Ontario

In addition to the ecological and ethical considerations, there are legal implications associated with interfering with wildlife in Ontario. Wildlife protection laws are designed to safeguard animals and their habitats, and unauthorized handling or disturbance of wildlife can lead to fines or legal action. These regulations are in place to ensure that wildlife remains wild and that the ecosystems upon which they depend are preserved for future generations (Ontario Government, 2014).

Understanding the risks and legalities of human intervention is vital. By resisting the urge to intervene and educating others about the natural behaviours of young wildlife, we can ensure that Ontario’s wild inhabitants continue to thrive in their natural environments, maintaining the biodiversity that is crucial to our province’s ecological health (Ontario Government, 2019).

Appropriate Ways to Help

While the instinct to help young wildlife is understandable, it’s crucial to approach this desire with knowledge and respect for nature’s balance. There are appropriate ways to assist that do not involve direct intervention with the animals themselves. Being informed about when to observe from a distance, how to recognize signs of distress, and understanding the appropriate channels for intervention can ensure the well-being of wildlife while keeping them wild (Petty, 2020).

When to Observe from a Distance

Observing wildlife without causing distress or harm is an art that requires patience, respect, and understanding. Here are some guidelines to ensure your wildlife observations are responsible and non-intrusive:

  • Maintain a Safe Distance: Always keep a significant distance between you and any wild animal, especially young ones, to avoid causing them stress or leading their parents to perceive you as a threat (City of Vaughan, 2024).
  • Quiet Observation: Be as quiet as possible to avoid startling the animals. Use binoculars or a camera with a zoom lens to observe or photograph from afar (Mountains and Treasures Photography, 2024).
  • Do Not Feed: Feeding wildlife can disrupt their natural diet and make them dependent on human-provided food, which is often not suitable for their nutritional needs (BC SPCA, 2023).
  • Keep Pets Leashed: If you’re in a wildlife area with a pet, keep them leashed at all times to prevent them from chasing or stressing wildlife (Procyon Wildlife, 2021).
Recognizing Signs of Distress

Understanding the difference between a young animal being alone and being in distress is critical. Here are signs that an animal may truly need help:

  • Visible Injuries: Look for signs of wounds or limping, which indicate the animal is injured (Guelph Humane Society, n.d.).
  • Unnatural Conditions: An animal found in a dangerous location, such as a busy road or in a yard with pets, may need assistance (Guelph Humane Society, n.d.).
  • Weak or Emaciated Appearance: If an animal appears significantly weak, thin, or lethargic, it may require help (Guelph Humane Society, n.d.).
How to Contact Wildlife Rehabilitation Professionals

If you believe an animal is genuinely in need of assistance, contacting a wildlife rehabilitation professional is the most appropriate course of action. Here’s how you can do this effectively:

  • Describe the Situation Accurately: When contacting a professional, provide a detailed description of the animal’s condition and location. This information will help them assess the situation and provide appropriate advice or assistance (Environment and Climate Change Canada, 2023).
  • Follow Instructions: Wildlife rehabilitators may give you specific instructions on how to observe the animal further or how to safely contain it until help arrives. It’s crucial to follow these instructions carefully to ensure the safety of both you and the animal (Toronto Wildlife Centre, n.d.).
  • Respect the Outcome: Sometimes, the best outcome for the animal might not align with what you hoped for. Trust the expertise and judgment of the rehabilitation professionals, who have the animal’s best interest at heart (Mcmillan, 2007).

By respecting these guidelines and understanding when and how to seek professional help, we can ensure that our interactions with Ontario’s young wildlife are responsible and conducive to their well-being and survival in the wild.

The Broader Impact of Leaving Wildlife Alone

Respecting the autonomy of young wildlife and choosing to observe from a distance has far-reaching benefits, not just for the individual animals but for the ecosystem as a whole. This approach fosters a healthier environment and encourages a more sustainable and respectful relationship between humans and nature. Every creature, no matter how small or seemingly insignificant, plays a crucial role in the intricate web of life that constitutes an ecosystem. Young wildlife, by their very presence, contribute to the dynamic balance of their habitats in several ways:

  • Biodiversity Support: Young animals grow to fulfill various roles in their ecosystems, such as pollinators, seed dispersers, and prey for other wildlife. Their survival into adulthood ensures the maintenance of biodiversity, which is crucial for a resilient ecosystem (Evers, 2022).
  • Natural Processes: The activities of young wildlife, from feeding to movement patterns, contribute to natural processes such as soil aeration, nutrient cycling, and vegetation management. These processes are vital for ecosystem health and sustainability (Nichols et al., 2008).
  • Genetic Diversity: The successful rearing of young animals contributes to the genetic diversity within populations, making them more resilient to diseases and environmental changes (NOAA Fisheries, 2021).

By leaving young wildlife alone, we allow these natural processes to unfold as they have for millennia, ensuring that ecosystems remain robust and functional.

Conclusion

The vibrant seasons of spring and early summer in Ontario bring with them the gift of new life, as young wildlife begins its journey in the natural world. While the sight of new life can tug at our heartstrings, it’s crucial to remember the importance of respecting their journey by observing from a distance. Interfering, even with the best intentions, can disrupt the delicate balance of nature and the development of these young animals. By choosing to leave young wildlife alone, we support their growth, contribute to the health of our ecosystems, and uphold the biodiversity that is so vital to our planet.

We are all stewards of the natural world, and as such, it is our responsibility to ensure its preservation for future generations. Spreading awareness about the importance of respecting wildlife boundaries is a step towards fostering a culture of conservation and respect for nature. Let’s commit to being mindful observers of nature, cherishing the opportunity to witness the beauty of wildlife from a respectful distance. Our collective actions can ensure a harmonious coexistence with the natural world, safeguarding its wonders for generations to come.

References: 

BC SPCA. (2023, December 14). Don’t feed wildlife: It can do more harm than good. BC SPCA. https://spca.bc.ca/news/dont-feed-wildlife/

Benz-Schwarzburg, J., & Wrage, B. (2023). Caring animals and the ways we wrong them. Biology & Philosophy, 38(4). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10539-023-09913-1

Čapkun-Huot, C., & Tissier, M. (2022, October 5). Why understanding animal behaviour is key for biodiversity conservation. Canadian Geographic. https://canadiangeographic.ca/articles/why-understanding-animal-behaviour-is-key-for-biodiversity-conservation/

City of Vaughan. (2024, April 7). Keep a safe distance from wild animals and their dens or nests | City of Vaughan. City of Vaughan. https://www.vaughan.ca/news/keep-safe-distance-wild-animals-and-their-dens-or-nests

Environment and Climate Change Canada. (2023, March 8). Wildlife emergencies. Government of Canada. https://www.canada.ca/en/services/environment/wildlife-plants-species/wildlife-emergencies.html

Evers, J. (2022, July 19). Role of Keystone Species in an Ecosystem. National Geographic. https://education.nationalgeographic.org/resource/role-keystone-species-ecosystem/

Guelph Humane Society. (n.d.). Wildlife – Guelph Humane Society. Guelph Humane Society. Retrieved April 11, 2024, from https://guelphhumane.ca/services/wildlife/

Jones, B. (2018, May 2). When You Should—and Should Not—Rescue Baby Birds. Audubon. https://www.audubon.org/news/when-you-should-and-should-not-rescue-baby-birds

Mcmillan, F. (2007). Predicting quality of life outcomes as a guide for decision-making: the challenge of hitting a moving target. Animal Welfare, 16(1), 135–142. https://doi.org/10.1017/S0962728600031845

Mountains and Treasures Photography. (2024, January 5). How to Photograph Wildlife Without Disturbing Them. Mountains and Treasures. https://mountainsandtreasures.ca/how-to-photograph-wildlife-without-disturbing-them/

Nichols, E., Spector, S., Louzada, J., Larsen, T., Amezquita, S., & Favila, M. E. (2008). Ecological functions and ecosystem services provided by Scarabaeinae dung beetles. Biological Conservation, 141(6), 1461–1474. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.biocon.2008.04.011

NOAA Fisheries. (2021, November 15). Preserving Genetic Diversity Gives Wild Populations Their Best Chance at Long-Term Survival. NOAA. https://www.fisheries.noaa.gov/feature-story/preserving-genetic-diversity-gives-wild-populations-their-best-chance-long-term

Ontario Government. (2014, July 24). Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act, 1997. Ontario Government. https://www.ontario.ca/laws/statute/97f41

Ontario Government. (2019). Strategy for preventing and managing human wildlife conflicts in Ontario. Ontario Government. https://www.ontario.ca/page/strategy-preventing-and-managing-human-wildlife-conflicts-ontario

Ontario SPCA and Humane Society. (2019, June 14). What to do if you find an orphaned deer. Ontario SPCA and Humane Society. https://ontariospca.ca/blog/what-to-do-if-you-find-an-orphaned-deer/

Petty, M. (2020, July 12). “Let Nature Take Its Course.” The Natural World. https://medium.com/natural-world/let-nature-take-its-course-c57e88c1e02

Procyon Wildlife. (2021, March 30). Spring’s Arrival. Procyon Wildlife. https://www.procyonwildlife.com/2021/03/30/springs-arrival/

Rossos, K. (2014, July 2). Don’t Touch that Fawn! Human Interference “Does” More Harm Than Good. The Dodo. https://www.thedodo.com/dont-touch-that-fawn-human-int-612467161.html

TFN Wildlife Protection Committee. (2022, December 11). Wildlife Disturbance: Why Now and Why Does It Matter? Toronto Field Naturalists. https://torontofieldnaturalists.org/wildlife-disturbance-why-now-and-why-does-it-matter/

Toronto Wildlife Centre. (n.d.). Temporary care for a sick or injured wild animal. Toronto Wildlife Centre. https://www.torontowildlifecentre.com/wildlife-emergency-rescue-hotline/sick-injured-wild-animal/temporary-care/

Willette, M., Rosenhagen, N., Buhl, G., Innis, C., & Boehm, J. (2023). Interrupted Lives: Welfare Considerations in Wildlife Rehabilitation. Animals, 13(11), 1836–1836. https://doi.org/10.3390/ani13111836

Zulkifli, I. (2013). Review of human-animal interactions and their impact on animal productivity and welfare. Journal of Animal Science and Biotechnology, 4(1). https://doi.org/10.1186/2049-1891-4-25

About Post Author

Tia Bigos

Tia Bigos is a 2nd year Environment and Business student studying at the University of Waterloo. This program blends the critical elements of environmental sustainability with the strategic principles of business management, preparing students for the challenges of integrating environmental considerations into business settings. She is on a co-op term working as a Research Assistant for EnvironFocus Inc.
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