Finding an Animal in Distress

Before attempting to rush to the rescue of any animal, you must ascertain that it is truly in need of your help. Refrain from picking up or handling any animal that does not require to be touched. Even when in dire need, animals can often be helped in-situ with minimal intervention. All that may need to be done is to relieve them from the distressing situation and pave a way for their escape.

Common signs of distress and some ways to help


Finding a baby animal

The first and foremost thing to remember is that not all animals give birth in nests or dens or cavities. Many species give birth in the open, relying on tall grasses, surrounding foliage and environmental patterns to provide camouflage and hence protection for the young. Species that give birth to altricial young (babies that are born naked and helpless) are most likely to give birth in nests, dens and cavities, for example, squirrels, passerines, parakeets and raptors. Whereas species that give birth to precocial young (babies that are fairly mobile and furred or feathered at birth) often give birth in the open as the babies are fairly mobile and capable of following the mother/parents, for example, deer, hare and waterfowl.

The mother or parents stay close to all babies, particularly altricial young, in the initial weeks of their lives – this may be primarily to provide warmth to the new-borns. As the young grow and are adequately feathered or furred, the parents may move further away from the nests to forage and leave the young alone for longer durations. Precocial young, particularly in the case of birds, often follow the parents and remain in close proximity at most times.

Never rush to pick up a baby animal. Observe from a distance and assess the situation. Refrain from approaching the baby as the parents will be unable to approach their babies if you are too close to them. They too will hide and wait for you to leave before they attempt to return to the young.

Please refer to our pages on Orphaned Animalsand Hand-raising for more information.

1. Finding a baby mammal

In many cases, you may have accidentally stumbled upon their nesting space. Leave the babies alone and observe from a distance – the parents should return in a short while. Intervention should be attempted only if the parents haven’t returned for several hours or if the babies have been crying repeatedly and there is no response from the parents. Finding individual babies could also indicate distress. Most animals give birth to multiple babies at a time. A lone youngster could easily have wandered away from the rest of the litter.

A reliable indication of babies requiring to be rescued is if the babies appear dehydrated and especially exhausted or weak – this is an indication that the parents have failed to return to the nest for a prolonged duration. Such babies need help and must be shifted into the care of human hands.

Please refer to our pages on Camouflage and Finding a baby animal alone for more information.

2. Finding a baby bird that is feathered and hopping around

These are fledgling birds and this is a rather common sight. At the age of fledging, baby birds are only capable of hopping from one tree to another. Their flight is often directionless and it takes them a few days to perfect their landings. If the young bird misses the branch it was intending to land on, it will most likely fall on the ground and be unable to lift itself back to the height of the branch. In all probability, the parents will be close by. Simply lift the baby bird and put it back on a high branch close to the parents. The parents will do the rest. Babies often leave the nest at this age and do not require to be returned to a nest. For any babies that are smaller, locate the nest and leave them back in the nest. It is ideal for baby birds to be looked after by their own parents.

3. Finding a baby reptile

Baby reptilians are independent from birth. Unlike mammals and birds, they do not require parental care. Their instincts guide them to do what they need to do to survive. In most cases, you may simply have stumbled upon a youngster that may not move as fast as you expect it to in response to your presence – this is normal. It is only in rare cases of displacement that you may need to intervene, in which case it is advisable to seek guidance regarding the species biology and the environmental conditions you have found the animal in.

Finding a fallen nest

The most common reasons for finding an entire fallen nest is when the nests have been blown away due to heavy winds, rains or storms, chopping of nesting trees and thereby dropping the nests, predator attacks or unsteady nests built by inexperienced animals. The simplest thing to do in such an instance is to put the babies in an artificial nest and hang it on or close to the nesting tree. Nesting boxes or covered baskets are ideal for the purpose. Replicate the nest shape and size according to the fallen nest. The nesting material from the fallen nest may simply be picked up with the babies and placed in the new/artificial nest. The artificial nest must be placed in a sufficiently covered area and away from direct sun or direct approach of any predators.

Observe from a distance to ensure that the parents have returned to the nest and have started feeding the babies. In most cases, the parents will remain close by and return in a couple of hours while in some instances, they may take a day or two before they start feeding the babies – if the process takes more than a few hours, the babies must be fed at regular intervals. If the parents do not return and start feeding the babies at all, they must be hand-reared and released at an appropriate time.


Finding a chopped tree with babies inside

Follow a similar protocol to ‘finding a fallen nest’. The babies may be placed in an artificial nest and hung close to the original nesting tree. In such cases though, parents may often abandon the nests requiring the babies to be hand-reared.


Finding an injured animal

An injured animal is definitely one that needs help but may be one that can be helped in one of several ways.

1. If the injuries seem superficial

The injuries may be extensive but not deep or incapacitating – The most important thing for the animal’s recovery is safety, rest and some water and food. Animals have remarkable immune systems and great capacity for recovery if they can just get some rest and nourishment. You may simply leave it some food for a few days and allow it to rest in a secure place. Handling such an animal will be unnecessary and often dangerous.

If there is fear of an infection to the open wounds, you may simply contact a veterinarian for guidance and add some antibiotic medicines to its feed. Once the animal is better, it will move away on its own. Refrain from prolonged feeding and habituation and encouraging the animal to reside in close quarters.


2. An animal with deep and incapacitating injuries

Such an animal is in obvious need of help. The animal will be in obvious physical distress and unable to move. It is best for such an animal to be admitted to a rescue center for treatment and care. Refrain from approaching such an animal yourself as animals in pain are likely to bite. It would be safer to approach such animals with a team of organized rescuers esp. if dealing with large animals. If there are no rescue centers in your vicinity, attempt to help the animal under the guidance of a veterinarian and/or experienced rehabilitators, the Forest Department or your local zoo. Such animals will often require extensive treatments [fractures, for example, may take several weeks to heal] and require a safe place to rest until they regain their strength.


3. Animals with gunshot or spear wounds

Such animals will require veterinary help. If the wounds are superficial, the animals may be released after immediate treatment with long-acting medications or doses repeated through opportunistic supplemental feeding. Housing such animals will be necessary in case of incapacitating injuries.


Please refer to our page on Injured and Sick Animals for more information.


Finding an animal in imperfect body condition

Do note that Animals, though in imperfect body condition, may have mastered their own survival strategies and live well without human intervention. A rescue must not be attempted simply because you think the animal is incapacitated. Observe the animal and ensure it is in absolute physical disadvantage before attempting to help.

The monkey in this picture, for example, lacks a forelimb but has been surviving perfectly well by itself and is in no way greatly disadvantaged or in need of rescue.

Animals that are at a physical disadvantage of surviving in the wild are often shifted to rescue or captive care facilities, and as a last resort esp. when the animal is in physical distress, may be humanely euthanized.


Finding a sick or debilitated animal

Sick animals definitely require treatment. If afflicted by a disease, there will often be physical signs indicating the disease. Such animals require rest and treatment. They may be temporarily confined for treatment and released as soon as they regain their health.

Debilitated or weak animals may have simply gone without a few feeds and hence be malnourished and/or dehydrated. Dehydrated animals are commonly found during peak summers. Such animals simply require a few feeds and lots of water, quickly regaining their health within a couple of days. They may simply be fed in-situ allowing them to wander away on their own as soon as they regain their health.


Finding an animal in poor body condition

Similar to 'finding weak and debilitated animals' – see the point above. This is often the case of youngsters who haven’t perfected their foraging skills, or older animals in weaker body conditions.


Finding an animal fallen in a trench or well

In most cases, the animal simply needs a way out. In the case of a trench or any huge hole, you can either lever the animal by providing a gently sloping ramp or similarly dig out a gently sloping route and allow the animal to escape. In the case of a well, a wooden plank may be lowered for the animal to climb on and then hoisted up, allowing the animal to escape as soon as it reaches the top. In some cases, the animal may have sustained severe injuries, requiring it to be admitted to care facility for care and treatment before release.

An important consideration in such cases is crowd management. Ensure to keep the area quiet and free of human movement so the animal can escape in a calm and quiet way. It is just as important to keep the animal’s escape route clear – larger animals can injure people as they try to escape.


Finding a trapped animal

Although not common, it is not unusual to find an animal trapped in an enclosed space. They may have either wandered in and not be able to find their way out, or, the exit may have somehow closed after they have entered the enclosed space. The simplest thing to do in such a case is to open the exit or make an opening for the animal to leave. Once left alone, the animal will wind its way out. You may also gently scare the animal from the opposite end driving it towards the exit. Again, ensure there are no people blocking the exit – this will either prevent the animal from escaping or result in injuries on the way out.

Snakes and monkeys are amongst the most likely animals to wander into human dwellings. Snakes may simply be lifted with a stick and left outside but it will be advisable to call a local rescue group to do so. Monkeys on the other hand can be lured outside with some fruit.

Finding animals trapped in snares, wires, fishing lines, etc. too is not uncommon. In most cases, you can simply snip off the wires and let the animal free. The animal must be admitted to a care facility if it has sustained any serious injuries or cuts.

This deer fawn, for example, managed to get his hind leg tangled in the fence as he was jumping over. The mother stood close-by, keeping an eye on the fawn all along. All that was required to do was to approach the fawn quietly and cut it free of the fence as it hadn’t sustained any injuries. With two snips of wire, the fawn ran back to its mother.

Animals that have been caught in traps, esp. foot-hold traps, often sustain series injuries and fractures. They often need a good medical examination before setting them free. If an animal has been in a trap for a longer duration and is in weakened body condition, it will require intensive care and treatment before release.


An unusual sighting of a wild animal near your house

It is often the case that when you spot a wild animal once, it has already seen you at least 20 times. Animals are often around us but we are unaware of their presence and it is only rarely that you spot something out of the blue. Unless the animal is of any direct threat to you, simply ignore it. It has come there of its own free will and will find its way back too.


Snakes in your backyard

Snakes are a vital part of our environment. They are not normally known to chase or attack unless they have been cornered and disturbed. Their first reaction is always to move away. As long as you look where you walk and walk in a lit-up space at night, snakes are unlikely to pose any danger to you.

If it’s in your backyard – it will move away on its own. You may simply want to keep your doors and windows closed to prevent it from coming into your house. If you find a snake in your house, (similar to ‘Finding a trapped animal’) you may simply open an escape for the animal or call your local snake rescue organization for assistance.

Here’s an important point for you to consider before you attempt to get rid of snakes: Snakes provide a vital service by being present in our environment. Let’s say a snake eats 2 rats a week on average. If you multiply that by 52, that’s 104 rats each year. Not to mention the rate at which those 104 rats would breed at! Snakes are indispensable in keeping a check on the pest population and keeping diseases like plague at bay… a truly indispensable service to us.

Please refer to our page on Strayed Animals for more information.


Finding a lost pet

Often, you may even come to the rescue of pet animals and care for them temporarily before reuniting them with their original owners or rehoming them. This is often the case with exotics pets, particularly birds. Contrary to the minimal contact advisable for wild animals, most pet animals (esp. mammals and birds) benefit from close human contact and settle down faster in the company of people. Talking to them in a soft, gentle voice will help instill a feeling of security and encourage the animal to respond faster.

Ageing and identifying the animal

Ageing an animal or identifying the species can often be quite perplexing when dealing with an unfamiliar species. Regardless of either, the animal may warrant intensive care and the first step would be to remove it from danger. Once freed from immediate threat, it will be extremely important to identify the species of the animal in concern in order to provide it with the relevant care.

Identifying the species

As each species have diverse needs in terms of habitat, food and handling, it is important that you narrow down the species to at least the family level if not the exact species. There are identification books available for the same, or you can search online, or send a photograph to someone working with wild animals. Young animals, esp. birds, can be quite difficult to identify when young. Nonetheless, identify the animal to the closest family/species possible and provide the appropriate care required.

Ageing the animal

Ageing an animal too is very important in terms of food and handling requirements. Young mammals require milk to fulfill their nutritional requirements while giving milk to a bird or an adult animal is only likely to cause intense damage. Again, the animal’s age and body reflexes will be fairly obvious, but ensure the same before proceeding with routine care. Young animals must also be provided with additional warmth until they are fully furred or feathered and their bodies are capable of thermoregulation.

Sexing the animal

Sexing (identifying the sex of the animal) is of little importance in animal rescue. Regardless of the sex, all animals warrant the same amount of care. It is only be important to know the sex of the animal when housing two or more animals together. Most animals can easily be housed together when young but get extremely territorial and competitive no sooner than they mature sexually. Housing two adult males together could lead to infighting and the eventual death of either or both the animals if they are territorial animals or of an unsocial species. It is extremely important to understand the social dynamics of the species both in the wild and in captivity before you place any two animals in the same enclosed space.

Sex and aggression

There is often no correlation between the sex and the aggression levels of the animals. Although it is often assumed that males are more aggressive, there is nothing half as formidable as a mother protecting her young. Also, there are always individual differences and here more than anywhere, the exceptions always prove the rule. It is also important to note that rather than being inherently aggressive, an animal is only likely to be aggressive in response to a certain situation. It is therefore best to respect the animal’s space and only intervene when and where necessary.

Interfere minimally

Follow the Golden Rule of minimal help and intervene only when required. Refrain from handling any animal, esp. an adult wild animal unnecessarily. Human contact is traumatic for wild animals as it is unnatural for them to be in close contact with humans. Often, more damage and stress is caused due to handling alone. If the animal must be handled, the contact must be minimal. Wherever an examination of the animal is mandatory, ensure to blindfold the animal to minimize handling stress. Ear muffs can also be used to reduce sounds and hence stress during extensive handling.

Handler safety

All too often, we stress on the animal and forget to warn and inform people of their own personal safety. Wild animals are dangerous animals. They can, even if unintentionally, cause you extensive harm. Always be extremely cautious when dealing with a wild animal. Ensure to get trained help if attempting to assist large and dangerous animals. Also ensure to be fully equipped and prepared before rushing in for a rescue. Being unprepared only causes chaos and compromises both animal and personal safety.

People innocently believe that if they approach an animal with good intentions, the animal will understand their feelings and not hurt them. This is often not the case. Wild animals will often respond instinctively to your presence – eliciting a fight or flee response. Most will first attempt to escape but can get extremely aggressive and hurt you if cornered and feel threatened. It is imperative to respect the animal’s space and handle it appropriately.

Please refer to our pages on CareHousing and Transportation and Nutritional Basics for more information.