In A Place for Them, in our March 2003 issue, author and photojournalist James Phillips explores the world of animal rehabilitators Ed and Gail Straight.
As urbanization continues to bring humans into contact with Florida’s wildlife, we asked the Straights what someone should do when they encounter an injured or sick animal.
"First of all, don’t try to feed them," says Ed Straight. "Injured birds don’t need food. They need warmth and safety." Straight says a common myth is that touching an injured bird will cause the mother to reject it. "Birds don’t have a strong sense of smell," he says. "So it’s OK to gently put it back in the nest."
Don’t be surprised if the mother kicks it back out, though. Straight says animals know if their young is too sick to survive and will deliberately remove them from the nest to preserve food for stronger offspring.
Birds of prey are a different matter. Straight warns that ospreys, hawks and owls attack with their talons, and since any injured animal already feels threatened, they can be especially dangerous to handle. If you come upon one of these, try to get close enough to throw a towel over it to keep it quiet and prevent it from injuring itself further, then call a professional animal rehabber.
The same goes for bobcats and raccoons. "Things like bats bite. So do raccoons, even the cute little babies, and both carry rabies, so leave them to someone trained to handle them," says Straight. The same goes for foxes and long-necked birds like great egrets or blue herons. "They’ll go for the eyeballs." Straight always wears goggles when he handles them.
Also, be extremely careful if you find an injured animal in the road. Raccoons, foxes and pets frequently dart across traffic trying to find their way into adjoining brush, but people have been killed trying to rescue them, especially at night.
If you have successfully rescued an animal or bird, call a wildlife rehabilitation professional immediately. "It’s illegal to have any type of wild animal without a license," says Straight. "It can cost you up to a $500 fine, and it is enforced." He says many of the animals in his center are brought there by law officers who confiscated them from homeowners. "Even turtles are protected here."