Wildlife don’t need rescuing and could spread rabies

Photo by John Hall, Vt. Fish & Wildlife Department
Wild mammals such as skunks, raccoons, foxes and bats could carry rabies. Wildlife experts tell people to leave them alone.

State health and wildlife officials have one message for people who come across any animals in the wild: “Just leave them be.”

The state’s head game warden, Col. Jason Batchelder, says wardens get many calls from people who find little animals they believe are abandoned or orphaned, and take the animals home to care for them.

Batchelder says that’s bad for the animals, and potentially for people, too.

“It’s perfectly normal for young wildlife to be on their own, especially newborn fawns,” Batchelder said. “Young and small animals can be irresistibly cute, but their best chance of survival is to remain in the wild. If you have concerns about an animal, contact the local game warden.”

Dr. Natalie Kwit is Vermont’s public health veterinarian warns that wild animals can pose serious health risks to people who touch them. “When someone is bitten by a wild animal or even just exposed to its saliva, that animal will need to be tested for rabies, which requires killing it,” she explained.

Fatal to both humans and animals, rabies infects mammals such as raccoons, skunks, foxes and bats. Cats, dogs and livestock can also get rabies if they have not been vaccinated.

Health officials report that 40 animals tested positive for rabies in Vermont in 2017, and 11 have tested positive so far this year. Nearly every year in Vermont, people bring wildlife into their homes that later test positive for rabies.

Animals with rabies often show a change in their normal behavior, but you cannot tell whether an animal has rabies simply by looking at it. The best way to protect yourself, your loved ones and Vermont’s wildlife is to just steer clear, officials said.

“If you notice an animal acting strangely and are concerned it may be rabid, contact a game warden or local law enforcement immediately, and do not attempt to handle it yourself,” Batchelder said.

If you suspect an animal may have rabies, call the Rabies Hotline 1-800-472-2437 (1-800-4-RABIES). Find more information about rabies in Vermont at healthvermont.gov/rabies. And if you find an animal that appears orphaned, injured or abandoned, find out what to do at vtfishandwildlife.com/livingwithwildlife.

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