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9 Easy Ways to Protect Wildlife in Your Neighborhood

Wildlife populations are in freefall, and it’s our fault. Here are 9 things you can do to help.


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Madeleine Ary

3 years ago | 4 min read

Spring is baby season in the world of wildlife rehabilitation. In Southern California where I worked as a volunteer rehabilitator for four years, baby season meant receiving boxes of baby crows, crates of rotund baby raccoons, and deliveries of shivering fawns, baby owls, and needle-toothed coyote pups.

People brought possums, ravens, and hummingbirds so small they could fit on your fingertip. Rabbits. Squirrels. Bobcats. So many babies.

The vast majority of these babies weren’t orphaned naturally. People had intervened, sometimes maliciously, but far more often accidentally and ignorantly. They just didn’t know any better.

Wildlife populations have decreased by a staggering 60% just since 1970. If we want to save wild animals, and, by extension, ourselves, we need to start with some pretty basic education.

The orders of magnitude loss in wild animal populations is due to short-sighted policies, questionable business practices, and the explosive growth of humans (there are twice as many of us on earth now in 2020 than there were in 1970).

As humans increasingly encroach on wild territory, cross-species interactions are inevitable. Here’s how to make sure both you and the animal come out of the interaction healthy and safe.

9 Easy Ways to Protect Wildlife in Your Neighborhood:

1 | Unless a baby animal is visibly injured or sick, leave it alone.

Many baby animals are left alone by their parents for extended periods of time. Never interact with baby animals unless they are visibly injured or obviously in harm’s way (like in the middle of the road). If you move them, there is a good chance their parents will not find them again.

Photo by Erika Fletcher, Unsplash

2 | If you do find a verifiably injured or orphaned wild animal, call your local rehabilitation center before doing anything else.

There are wildlife rehabilitation centers all over the world. If you live in the US, you likely have one in a nearby city. You can find them with a quick Google search. The rehabilitators can help you assess what an animal needs and help you interact with the animals safely.

3 | Wild animals are biologically distinct from domestic animals. Don’t keep wild animals as pets.

Domestication requires thousands of years. You can’t make it happen in one animal’s lifetime. At best, a wild animal kept as a pet will be effectively handicapped through its interactions with humans. At worst, it will become dangerous to your family and your other pets. We received dozens of damaged animals at the center who had been raised by humans and become too dangerous or too sick for the humans to keep.

4 | Use wildlife-friendly rodenticides. Rat poison kills thousands of wild animals a year.

Predators like owls and bobcats often eat the poisoned rats and die from secondary poisoning. Don’t buy second generation anti-coagulation rodenticides. These deaths are usually slow and horrific, and they have devastating ecological consequences. The worst illnesses I saw in wild animals were the direct result of secondary poisoning.

If everyone followed these basic rules, the number of wild animals dying prematurely or needing rehabilitation would plummet.

5 | Keep your cats inside. Cats kill more wild birds than just about anything else.

Cats are responsible for 2.4 billion wild bird deaths a year. This contributes significantly to the precipitous decline in wild birds since 1970. They are wonderful pets — but please keep your cats in your house.

6 | Don’t feed wild animals. It’s fun for you, but terrible for them.

As a kid, I dreamed of having wild animal friends. But as a rehabilitator, I learned just how harmful such relationships can be. Animals regularly become sick from gathering at feeding sites, and if they become accustomed to humans, they’re far more likely to end up with injuries.

Also, human feeding dependencies are proven dangerous for the wellbeing of the wild population. The only exception to this is birdfeeders, and even that is contested. If you do use a birdfeeder, be sure you clean it regularly.

Photo by Qijin Xu, Unsplash

7 | Discourage wild animals from approaching you, even if they want to.

While the physical distance needed between you and an animal varies among species, always err on the side of caution. Approaching people is unnatural behavior for wild animals, and indicates something awry. The only animals who ever acted aggressively toward us at the rehabilitation center were those raised by or otherwise too accustomed to humans.

8 | Don’t let myths about mother birds keep you from helping grounded nestlings.

Birds, with the exception of vultures, have a terrible sense of smell. Touching a baby bird won’t leave a lingering smell that scares the mother off. If a bird is obviously a nestling, you can put it back in the nest (if you can do so easily). Nestlings can’t hop, can’t walk, and have few feathers. Fledglings, on the other hand, are usually more feathery, alert, and more mobile. It’s normal for them to be out of the nest. If you come across a fledgling that is not in direct danger, leave it alone.

Photo by Fas Khan, Unsplash

9 | Consider how your garden can hurt wildlife.

Your use of pesticides and herbicides discourages the natural variety of insect life, and insect life is the basis of many animal diets. There are impressive natural insect deterrents which still allow desirable insect life to flourish. See companion planting practices, and organic pesticides which rely on the natural features of plants to create an inhospitable environment for target pests.

This is just the beginning. To protect wild animals long term, the most important changes will need to happen on a national and international scale (I’ll be writing more about this shortly). Until then, we can each take responsibility to do the least harm possible to our local environment.

Photo by Peter Lloyd, Unsplash


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