The West Virginia Division of Natural Resources urges people to leave young wildlife alone.
Doing anything else is illegal, unsafe and often detrimental to the animal's health, according to a WVDNR press release. Picking up, touching or even getting close can greatly increase the chance of the animal being harmed.
"When you touch or approach young animals, you leave behind scent that predators may key in on and increase the risk to that young animal," said Vinnie Johnson, a wildlife biologist for WVDNR. "Watching these young animals can be an enjoyable pastime, but the WVDNR recommends that this is done from a distance with the use of binoculars."
WVDNR district offices receive numerous calls regarding young wildlife, especially fawns and birds. An adult doe will leave its fawn hidden for many hours while it searches for food, and the fawn remains still while the mother is away. Fawns have a unique color pattern and have little to no scent, which allows them to remain undetected by predators.
People often pick up young birds because they assume they fell out of the nest. At times, this can be the case, officials say. If the bird is pink and featherless, and the nest is easy to reach, the nestling can be put back into the nest. Most of the time, though, the bird is fledging, when a young bird has intentionally left the nest to learn how to feed itself and fly. These young birds are feathered but look poor, and they hop or make short flights.
Handling wildlife can also increase the risk of transmitting rabies, roundworms or other parasites like ticks to the person handling the animal. Rabies is a viral disease that, when left untreated, is almost always fatal to humans. Rabies is commonly found in mammals like raccoons, foxes and skunks. These animals are common during the spring in West Virginia and, if illegally possessed by humans, can increase the risk of being exposed to rabies.
Another danger of handling young wildlife is exposure to Lyme Disease, which is caused by the bite of a black-legged (deer) tick that carries the disease. When handling wildlife, the likelihood of encountering the tick is extremely high.
The WVDNR also reminds the public that it is illegal to possess wildlife without a permit. Fines for the unlawful possession of a bear cub, fawn, squirrel, bird or any other animal range from $20 to $300 and/or 10 to 100 days in jail.
"We want people to enjoy the wildlife that West Virginia has to offer," Johnson said. "But we don't want to interfere with the wildness of wildlife, so please leave young wildlife alone."