Abandoned Baby Animals: What Should You Do?

November 3, 2016

Earlier this month, I received an e-mail from a friend of mine asking if I wanted to adopt “a tame squirrel.” I paused and re-read her sentence, and then saw a photo of an extremely cute baby squirrel.

Photo of the baby fox squirrel (Sciurus niger) - an introduced species to the L.A. area.

Through several e-mail exchanges I learned that my friend’s coworker saw the baby squirrel in a park near her home, and was surprised at how unafraid it was of people (it came right up to her and let her touch it). Worried that this squirrel was a lost or abandoned pet, she picked up the squirrel, placed it in a box, and took it to her office. Everyone in her office was amazed that the squirrel was not afraid of people, and that it would let them touch it. That’s when I received the e-mail about the squirrel.

My first thought was, “Oh no! Why was that squirrel picked up?” I did some chastising since I told them that the baby squirrel may not have been lost or abandoned, and that since it was a baby that could explain why it wasn’t afraid of people. I knew that the person who picked up the squirrel thought she was helping, but taking an animal away from its home is not recommended. My friend asked if they should release the squirrel at a nearby golf course, and I quickly said, “No!”

Animals in a successful habitat know where food and water can be found, they know where they can take shelter to avoid predators and the weather, and have enough space to avoid high rates of competition. If this squirrel was placed in that golf course it would not have been familiar with its surroundings, would not know where food, water, or shelter could be found, and it is not likely that the squirrels living in that golf course would have accepted it. Also, if animals are successful in establishing themselves in new areas, they can have a negative effect on the animals already there (example 1, example 2, example 3).

I spoke with Leslie Gordon, who is one of the Managers in NHMLA’s Live Animal Program, and she had some great insight about "helping" wild animals:

It is not just unwise, it is illegal to keep a wild animal without a permit. Squirrels especially make terrible pets. Even those dedicated to raising them (with permits) note they are flighty, inconsistent, difficult, and …well…”squirrelly”.

Fear is a healthy thing for animals- friendliness is not. Wild squirrels (or any animal) can carry a plethora of zoonoses (diseases or parasites that can spread to humans). Squirrels, in particular, can also carry the plague.  So when you see one that seems “unafraid”, that doesn’t necessarily mean it wants to be pals- It may be very ill.

A lack of fear can also mean it has been habituated to humans by feeding. If you have ever heard the term “a fed (blank) is a dead (blank)” that is what it refers to. Squirrels become habituated to humans and unafraid of them. When this happens they become food aggressive and begin to chase any human they find. It begins a loop of aggression (squirrels especially seem to find it satisfying when we run away screaming) that ends up with a squirrel being trapped by the City due to complaints and killed, or worse a kid getting bit. This is why rehabbers go to great lengths to avoid the animal seeing them or associating them with food, so it can be released again and keep its fear of humans.  Don’t feed squirrels (or any wild animal)! 

If you see an animal who is unafraid it is not wrong to leave it alone, especially if it seems otherwise safe, and simply report it to City animal control. They do bring animals to rehabbers when they can.  If it seems in danger of being killed or injured, and you feel you can keep yourself safe from disease or bites, it is okay to bring it to a rehabber or shelter yourself.

I encouraged my friend and her coworker to call a wildlife rehabilitation center, and they found one in Malibu that specializes in squirrel rescues, Coast & Canyon Wildlife Rehabilitation. The rehabilitation center was able to accept the squirrel, and through the care of their trained wildlife rehabilitators they believe it will be able to be reintroduced successfully into the wild.

If you see a wild animal that you think needs help, it is recommended that you contact a wildlife rehabilitation center and/or animal control, rather than to try and help the animal on your own. Below is a list of places you may contact.

California Wildlife Center

818-591-9453

City of Los Angeles Animals Services – Wildlife

323-225-9453

Coast and Canyon Wildlife Rehabilitation

310-480-1760

County of Los Angeles Animal Control – Wildlife

562-728-4882

International Bird Research & Rescue Center

310-514-2573

Pasadena Humane Society & SPCA – Wildlife

626-792-7151

South Bay Wildlife Rehab

310-378-9921

Squirrelmender Wildlife Rehab

805-338-0481

Wetlands and Wildlife Care Center

714-374-5587

 

(Posted by: Richard Smart)


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Breaking and Entering: Squirrel Moves into Opossum Den

March 16, 2012

We have another new sighting for the North Campus. A California ground squirrel has been spotted using the opossum den located underneath one of our Museum sheds. So far it seems that both the opossums and the squirrels are sharing the space!

 

 



 

 

Sam Easterson's camera trap captures the first image!

 

This is what Jim Dines, our Mammalogy Collections Manager, has to say about them:

The California ground squirrel, as its name suggests, is common throughout California as well as the rest of the western U.S. Scientists know this rodent as Otospermophilus beecheyi (formerly known as Spermophilus beecheyi). They are diurnal (active during the daylight) and, like other ground squirrels, live in burrows that they excavate or take over from other animals. Our ground squirrel has apparently moved into a den built by an opossum.

 

 

Ground squirrels eat seeds, nuts, and a variety of other plant material, as well as insects and handouts left by humans. Since they also invade gardens and cultivated areas, California ground squirrels are commonly regarded as pests. Their extensive burrow systems can be very destructive. They are also a host to fleas that can carry plague, so pose a health risk to humans and their pets. Rattlesnakes are one of the main natural predators of California ground squirrels and the squirrels have developed an interesting defense mechanism: the ground squirrels will eat the shed skins of rattlesnakes and then lick themselves and their young, thus covering themselves with rattlesnake scent and confusing a potential rattlesnake predator into thinking it is merely smelling another rattlesnake. Pretty sneaky, eh?

 

 

The California ground squirrel has a fairly bushy tail so is sometimes mistaken for the Eastern fox squirrel (a tree squirrel), but has different colored fur and retreats underground instead of up into a tree.

 

 

Watch Sam accidentally startle the squirrel into the den!

 


(Posted by: Lila Higgins)


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What's For Dinner (and the Unintended Consequences of Every Introduction)?

 

The Eastern fox squirrel, Sciurus niger, was imported to Southern California in 1904 by veterans of the Civil War and Spanish American War, at the time living at the Veterans Home in West Los Angeles.  The war veterans mostly came from the southern US (e.g., Tennessee, Kentucky) and kept as caged pets tree squirrel native to their home states. Perhaps it is apocryphal, but I've heard that the squirrels weren't just pets, they were also used in that old-time favoritesquirrel stew!

Whatever the reason for keeping the squirrels, eventually an overzealous hospital administrator noticed that they were being fed table scraps and, deeming this illicit provisioning a misuse of government support, turned the squirrels loose.  The fox squirrels did quite well in their new habitat and it wasn’t long before they spread throughout the region.

 

Today we find Eastern fox squirrels from Oxnard to Ontario and from Santa Clarita to south Orange County.  As their range has expanded, the fox squirrel has increasingly come into contact with the Western gray squirrel, the native tree squirrel that lives in the foothills and mountains of Los Angeles.  Biologists are very interested in studying the ecological effects of these two species as they come into contact, including possible displacement or hybridization.

Here in Exposition Park we have a large and feisty population of these squirrels. At lunchtime they can often be seen wrestling French fries and sandwiches out of field trippers' hands. Here's some footage Sam Easterson captured of one of them eating lunch crumbs off the sidewalk.

 

 

 

 

 

In addition to this footage Sam is trying to capture some non-traditional footage for our new Nature Lab exhibit. We're hoping to show you nature like you've never seen it before, and Sam thinks this peanut cam might help! He says, "I like the idea of the squirrel shooting footage. Maybe he/she will take the peanut up a tree or even bury it underground." Whatever happens, I'll be sure to keep you all in the loop as we try out the peanut cam.

 



Sam's prototype peanut cam!

 

 



 

Thanks Jim Dines, Mammalogy Collections Manager, for all the Eastern fox squirrel facts! 

 


(Posted by: Lila Higgins)

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Black Phoebes Build Nest

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More Nest SurveillanceThis week we found another active bird nest! This nest belongs to a pair of Black Phoebes, Sayornis nigricans, and is built under the eaves of the Rose Garden maintenance shed. Once again this find is thanks to Kimball Garrett, who noticed the nest Monday morning on one of his regular Expo Park bird surveys.  Footage of the phoebe landing on her nestNaughty NeighborsThis is the second nest Kimball has found in this location this year, but it is a site that has been used by phoebes in past years. Unfortunately, this year's first nest was disturbed by unknown causes, but it is possible that a squirrel is to blame. Eastern Fox Squirrels, Sciurus niger, are very common in Expo Park, and they are known nest predators. When they locate a nest they will eat any eggs or young birds they find. We'll never know for sure if a squirrel is to blame for the first nests' failure, but fortunately the phoebes persevered and built a second nest.

Eastern Fox Squirrel on top of the Butterfly PavilionBetter Luck This TimeUntil today we were not sure if the new nest contained any eggs. This morning Kimball and I went out with a mirror and now we can confirm there are four eggs!

Kimball checks out the nest

The mirror reveals four eggs in the clutchNow that we know there are eggs, we are going to regularly monitor the nest. I'll keep you posted as the eggs are incubated, they hatch and then the immature birds develop. If we are lucky, we'll be able to document the entire process.


(Posted by: Lila Higgins)


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