Monday, June 24, 2024

ANIMALS 101 – HOW CAN YOU HELP SAVE WILDLIFE FOUND IN YOUR TOWN?

Bookmark
Bookmarked

COMPASSIONATE PEOPLE TRY TO HELP WHEN THEY FIND WILD ANIMALS AND BIRDS, BUT ARE OFTEN UNSURE OF HOW TO HANDLE THESE SITUATIONS.

At times, wild animals end up in our suburban areas and there are various reasons for this. When it happens, many people are concerned about them and want to help, but are unsure about how to handle the situation or who to contact. There is always a possibility that you might do more harm than good if you don’t know how to handle the situation correctly and stress is one of the biggest killers of rescued wildlife. If it is an adult animal or bird, they might also have babies nearby, which could die if you remove them. Today we will provide some general guidelines shared by the NSPCA and other wildlife rehabilitation organizations.

People often find birds, bunnies, tortoises, bats, hedgehogs, snakes and other wildlife in their yard. Sometimes it is a bird/animal that had a stressful encounter and is now just “catching their breath”, other times they might be injured and lost, or is a baby/fledgling. Unless in immediate danger or injured. We usually advise to let them be and keep an eye out.  If there have been heavy rains or other extreme weather, please take a few extra minutes and check gardens for wildlife that may be drenched and not able to fly.

Also, read tips on missing pets and stray pets.

wild animals

WHAT TO DO IF YOU FOUND WILDLIFE (until professional help arrives)

1. If they are injured and you don’t have a wildlife veterinarian nearby, please contact a wildlife vet or rehabber to advise. If you can’t get hold of a rehabber, please contact your nearest vet, but remember that not all vets are equiped to deal with wildlife. They might be able to address the emergency, but in many cases they might opt to euthanize (humanely kill) the animal. They are also not allowed to keep the animal indefinitely without a permit.

2. If not injured or in immediate danger, let them be and observe.

3. Before you remove them, first contact a wildlife rehabilitator, local welfare organizations, or SPCA to advise.

4. Do not give food or water before speaking to a rehabilitator. You could kill them by giving them something that their body can’t handle at that moment. You can’t feed a dehydrated animal and the public might not be equipped to know how to recognize the symptoms or they might have an internal injury. This will obviously depend on how long the animal is with you and why it is important to get in contact with experts as soon as possible.

5. Note the exact spot where the animal was found as this is important when the animal is released again. Record any injuries you might have noticed and provide the rehabilitator with information about treatment you provided while they were in your care, especially if you have given them anything. Whether they have had any bowel movements is also an important note.

6. Never keep the animal with you any longer than necessary. You have a moral and legal obligation to hand them over to the right people. Many rescue animals and keep them, only to hand them over when they suddenly become sick and then it might already be too late.

7. ALways contact a wildlife rehabilitator, the SPCA, the nature conservation department, or the wildlife veterinarian as soon as possible. We also refer such cases to the SPCA as wildlife are rarely just euthanized and will be taken to a rehabilitation facility approved by the NSPCA or released back into the wild in a safe manner. If the local SPCA does not answer, try the NSPCA (011 907 3590/ nspca@nspca.co.za) directly.  They will either contact the Wildlife unit or the local SPCA.

KEEP THEM SAFE

Please note that this might differ slightly for various animals.

  • Prepare the container. Place newspaper or straw on the bottom of a cardboard box or container with a lid. Don’t use sawdust as it can interfere with respiration.
  • Protect yourself. Wear gloves, if possible. Animals in distress can bite, some birds may stab with their beaks, slice with their talons (claws) and slap with their wings to protect themselves, even if sick; birds and other animals might have parasites (fleas, lice, ticks) and may carry diseases.
  • Cover the animal with a light towel or sheet.
  • Gently and correctly handle them!
  • Make enough air holes in the container for good ventilation. For smaller birds, you can use a paper sack with air holes.
  • Secure the container and don’t let the animals loose in your house or car.
  • Warm the animal if they are cold. Follow expert guidelines.
  • Keep them in a quiet, safe, warm (depending on weather) dark place.
  • Keep your pets and children away from them. Don’t bother them.
  • Wash your hands and anything the animal was kept in or touched with.
  • If you do provide water in a small accessible container, make sure the water is not bumped over. Again, this is after you confirmed with a rehabilitator.
rabbit

FLEDGELINGS (those learning to fly)

Don’t BIRDNAP the babies! Many young birds may appear abandoned, but they are probably waiting for mom or learning to fly. The process of fledging begins by jumping out of the nest. It usually takes them 3-4 days to learn how to fly. It is the time when mom teaches them how to fear, forage and fly. We know it is a dangerous world, but this is why it is so crucial to learn these skills from mom. If they look a little scruffy, fully feathered, standing and hopping, they are probably a fledgling.  

Don’t feed them even if it is a tiny baby. Forced syringe feeding is usually a struggle for humans and birds. They can also aspirate, so please do this only with the guidance of a rehabilitator. Many people have this idea to feed Weetbix or ProNutro, but we strongly advise against it. There are safer options if you have to and the rehabilitator will advise on it. Don’t give birds bread, including ducks and geese.

If you found a fledgeling:

  • let them be while you look for mom nearby;
  • put the baby back in the nearby nest if you know it is theirs;
  • take them in and keep them safe until the right person can fetch them;
  • get the bird to a wildlife rehabilitator as soon as possible.

HANDLING A BIRD

Gently pick up the bird and put it into the prepared container. Do not hold the bird across their chest as this can damage the crop and the internal organs of the bird which will kill the bird. The correct manner of holding a bird is as follows:

Place a hand over the top of the bird very gently with your index finger and middle finger parting in a “V”. The neck of the bird should rest between the arches of the “V” as to stabilize its head and neck. With your other hand support the bottom of the bird and allow its feet to rest comfortably in your hand. Secure the wings of the bird. Do not handle the bird with a tight grip as it just needs to be stable in the above position. Handle firm enough so they don’t escape and get injured, but gently enough not to hurt them yourself. Do not handle them unnecessarily.

WARM A BIRD

Warm the bird if the weather is cold and wet or if the bird is chilled. Put one end of the container on a heating pad set on low. Alternatively fill a zip-top plastic bag, plastic soft drink bottle with a screw lid, hot water bottle, or rubber glove with hot water; wrap a warm container with a cloth and put it next to the bird. Make sure the container doesn’t leak, or the bird will become wet and chilled.

If the bird is soaking wet and only if the rehabilitator advised so, use a hair dryer on low/medium warmth to dry the bird. Very important: Keep one hand between the bird and the hairdryer so you can feel the heat. Make sure you do not burn the bird. Ensure there is not a massive build-up of heat in the box while drying. As soon as their feathers are fluffed and the bird is warm, leave the bird to cool down to room temperature in a quiet area.

RELEASING BIRDS

It would be prudent to leave the bird in the box undisturbed for the evening if the bird is found late afternoon unless you’ve picked up an owl, in which case, release them as soon as the owl is dry so they can hunt, if not injured. Release the animal where you found them, as early in the morning as possible. They start chirping from 4h30 am in the summer months but 5h30 / 6 am would be fine too. Make sure dogs or cats cannot get to them while they are in the opened box or container, getting their bearings before taking off.

BIRDS OF PREY

If you found a young bird of prey alone and they appear to not be injured, watch from a distance to see if mom returns. If you can approach the bird, they are likely very sick or seriously injured.  If this is the case, follow the above guidelines and contact the vet or rescue organization.

  • Do NOT use a wire cage/cat cage or something similar to it.
  • Make note of where the bird was found.
  • Do NOT attempt to feed the bird or provide water, unless instructed by a qualified individual.
  • If the bird is not injured, release them at night and don’t keep them for the evening.
owl

GEESE       

Note that animals like Egyptian geese lead their goslings to water a few days after hatching, often along busy streets. Do not “rescue” the goslings or any other little ones by separating them from their parents. You can rather escort the family through the traffic to the nearest pond.

“Unlike some of our local wildlife whose existence is being severely threatened by human development and urbanization, our ever-expanding cities and suburbs are proving an ideal breeding site for Egyptian geese. In addition to a warm climate, Egyptian geese look for access to a freshwater source and an area with plentiful food. So, be it your swimming pool, an eco-estate, or a golf course, our Egyptian geese are currently spoilt for choice when it comes to sites to rear their young,” says CROW director, Paul Hoyte.

Hoyte suggests letting the geese be if they take up residence in gardens, except where there is a danger of attacks from pets. In these cases, he appeals to people to assist them with safe capture. “The biggest problem we have is that to give the goslings the best chance of survival, we need to catch mom and dad too. Herein lies the problem, as they simply fly away as soon as we arrive with our catch and throw nets. Thankfully, what we have been finding as a huge help, is if the homeowner is prepared to lend us a helping hand by getting the family into any enclosed area such as a garage or shed before we arrive”.

“This is relatively easy to do with a washing or laundry basket. Gently scoop up each of the goslings and place them in the basket. Then, with mom and dad watching you, take the goslings and place the basket in your open garage or shed. Soon enough, mom and dad will make their way into the room to be close to their babies. As soon as they’re in, close the door and contact your local rescue to come and catch them.”

SNAKES

  • Please do not kill the snake. 
  • Watch where the snake is going.
  • Keep a safe distance.
  • Keep children and animals away from the snake.
  • Contact your local snake handlers and try to give a discription of the snake as well.

A local page to follow is TEKSA Venom

WHEN YOU FIND A BABY BAT (PUP)

The young babies do not have fur yet and have a “rubber” appearance. They are called pinky’s. For the first few weeks, the pups can’t fly yet and still drink from their mom. Any bat found, should be kept warm because they might be in shock but pups can’t regulate their body temperature yet (no fur), therefore won’t necessarily move away from the heat and can burn themselves.  A warm tap water in a bottle, covered with a towel/cloth is best.

We do not recommend placing bat pups back into roosts (controversy):

  • The mother bat may be dead.
  • Several species of bat may roost in the same roof, placing the pup in the wrong roost can get it killed.
  • The mother bat may have twins or triplets and has chosen to abandon one as resources may not enable her to raise all the babies.

Bats can’t take off from the ground, they need to “drop” from a height (around 1.5m). As they’re falling, they get the wind under their wings to fly. You can put an uninjured grounded bat on something high enough so they can drop themselves.

Bats are not dangerous and they catch lots of mosquitos. We are not aware of any rabies cases from South African bats and they are clean animals! Read more on what to do if you find a bat. Also, read how to correctly handle rabbits and tortoises.

bats

WILDLIFE AND THE SPCA

It is important to understand that it is against the law to keep wild mammals/birds if you don’t have permits, even if you plan to release them. The SPCA is a place of safety for animals, dogs and cats being the most commonly handled or admitted animals and no animal is ever turned away. They care for farm and domestic animals. Wildlife is also accepted with indigenous animals being relocated to approved wildlife rehabilitation centers.

Highveld Ridge SPCA injured stray animals or wildlife at 082 222 1122 / advice 082 869 2350.

Bethal SPCA injured animals 072 573 3122 / advice 066 397 1630

NSPCA 011 907 3590/ nspca@nspca.co.za

You can contact the Johannesburg Wildlife Veterinary Hospital 071 248 1514.

For more advice or if you are unsure of anything contact the South African Wildlife and Rehabilitation centre rescuers:

Judy: 073 112 1131

Leanne: 082 852 2510

Lauren: 082 873 8235

Dirk: 071 755 3791

Stefan 079 771 7125 (in Secunda)

Birds in the TEKS area:

Shy 083 653 9755     

Willie 079 046 1001

Please be patient when asking for assistance as these rescuers do not only deal with your situation that day. Thank you for caring enough to help.  Educate yourself and others on how to help wild and domestic animals in the best possible and safest way. Please consider donating to the organization that assists or takes in the animal.

What happens to the wildlife afterward?  Wild animals need to go back to the wild.  If injured, they will need professional help from rehabilitators. It is important to remember that rehabilitators will evaluate each situation individually.  Although the above are general guidelines please ALWAYS contact a rehabilitator first.

Next week we will look at what to do when your parrot is missing.

WHEN YOU KNOW BETTER, DO BETTER!