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Wild about wildlife?

Baby racoons receive care at SCWC.

May 30, 2012

PENNSYLVANIA — For 22 years, Angie Colarusso has been giving orphaned or injured wildlife in seven Pennsylvania counties a second chance to live in the wild. The licensed mammal rehabilitator, one of less than 35 professionals serving 67 counties, speaks with considerable experience when she urges concerned citizens who encounter seemingly stranded wildlife not to take the animals into their homes.

Apparently, Mother Nature still knows best. Plus, people with good intentions can find themselves facing fines from the Pennsylvania Game Commission (PGC) of up to $1500 per animal. “It’s illegal for anyone without a license issued by the PGC to raise a wild animal,” said Colarusso, who operates the non-profit Second Chance Wildlife Center. “Sometimes they’re injured or truly orphaned, and it’s important to get a rehabilitator involved. But in many cases, the mother is nearby and will return once you leave the area.”

If the fine isn’t enough to keep you at a respectful distance, consider this: any “high risk” rabies vector species (skunks, raccoons, foxes, bats, coyotes and groundhogs) confiscated after human contact must be euthanized and tested; it cannot be returned to the wild. “It’s a death sentence for the animal,” said Colarusso, who holds a special license for rabies vector species.

This year, with the unusually warm weather, Colarusso is seeing more babies on an earlier timetable. “Everything exploded early this year,” she said. While she normally starts seeing fawns in late May, this year they’ve been showing up since early May.

Squirrels, rabbits, opossums and more have been busy, too, and Colarusso is actively bottle-feeding around 35 baby animals and caring for 70 animals overall with the help of volunteer Shane Kleiner and family members.

Another factor affecting wildlife in some of the counties Colarusso covers is gas drilling and pipelines. The removal of trees and brush due to clearcutting wipes out habitat and puts the animals on the move to try to find other places to live.

When trying to decide whether to contact a rehabilitator, Colarusso advises that the animal be observed for at least four hours to see if the parent returns. On the other hand, if a fawn is in distress, for example, walking around and crying, with a dry nose, it’s probably time to place a call.

More reasons not to bring a wild animal home

• Taking wildlife into your home may transmit diseases to people or domestic animals. Wildlife can carry parasites such as fleas, ticks or lice that could infest you, your family, your home or your pets.

• Habituating wildlife to humans and domestic pets can cause wildlife to lose its natural fear of them and pose a safety risk to all.

• Misinformation can lead to improper feeding, dehydration and emaciation. By the time the animal is taken to a rehabilitator, some of these effects are irreversible.