Friday, June 6, 2008

Record influx of fawns, kits overwhelms rehabilitators

By Victor Zapana
Special to the Register

They can be cute. They can be cuddly.
They should be left alone.
People trying to do the right thing for baby animals are accidentally causing major headaches for Connecticut wildlife rehabilitators.
A record number of fawns and raccoon kits have been kidnapped and orphaned by humans in the Northeast this year, said Laura Simon, Connecticut-based field director of urban wildlife for The Humane Society of the United States.
The problem is particularly troublesome in the New Haven area, she added. Professional wildlife rehabilitators take care of baby animals and attribute the surge to an abnormally large number of animals born this year and “untruths” some wildlife workers tell laymen.
Wildlife rehabilitators said residents often call trappers to get rid of mother raccoons found in attics and chimneys. The trappers often kill the mother animal and the babies are left.
Well-meaning people also remove fawns from areas near a road, thinking the animal was abandoned, which is not the case, rehabilitators said.
“More people are outdoors,” fawn rehabilitator Lizabeth Gode of Clinton said. “And they see the fawn and they go, ‘It’s a baby animal. How do you leave a baby animal?’ Humans have trouble doing it.”
The doe often leaves the fawn alone, returning only to nurse, in order to keep predators away from the young, experts say.
May, June and July are peak mating months for deer and raccoons, rehabilitators said. They add they have received dozens of calls daily for issues regarding the two animals, a higher number of calls than in previous years.
The problem has also been recognized by the state.
Laurie Fortin of the Wildlife Division of the state Department of Environmental Protection sent an e-mail to all local raccoon rehabilitators saying the state is running out of room for raccoon kits, which are still coming in by the pack. She advised rehabilitators to better screen calls so only healthy orphans are accepted.
It is a crisis, Fortin said, “when you get two or three calls a day for animals you have no option for.”
Fortin said there are about 20 raccoon rehabilitation centers in the state and only 3 for fawns.
He said many area rehabilitators are already using their own money and homes to take care of young animals.
“It’s a huge problem,” Simon said, “because people have done something they shouldn’t have (by taking animals from the wild).”
Jennifer Weiffenbach of New Haven-based Statewide Wildlife Rescue LLC, said that nuisance wildlife control operators, who professionally remove animals from homes, can also contribute to the problem.
Although humane removal protocol is to only evict the animal from the home, Weiffenbach said, most operators tell residents that raccoon trapping and killing is the best option.
Weiffenbach said the removal specialists often leave the orphans at the home.
“Those who trap and trap and trap just do it for the money,” said Weiffenbach, who is both an remover and a rehabilitator. “And they don’t solve the problem.”
Although DEP records set the number of orphans given to rehabilitation centers from animal removers at about eight to 10 a year, Simon said they cause “hundreds, if not thousands” of unrecorded orphans and are likely the No. 1 cause for this year’s spike. Fortin said there are 310 animal removal operators in Connecticut.
But, Alan Provost, a private animal removal specialist in West Haven, said there has always been a “one way, another way” dispute between rehabilitators and those in his business.
Rehabilitators “are not the ones cleaning the messes up,” he said. “I like animals, but I gotta do what I gotta do.”
Yet rehabilitators said the problem, which they maintain is mainly caused by NWCOs, has definitely increased their workload. The spike in fawns taken from area woods have forced mother of two Gode, whose center is located in her basement and yard, to work about 15 hours a day feeding the animals.
“It’s been a stressful couple of months,” she added.
Victor Zapana is a New Haven Register intern.

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