In the midst of hurricane season, we have had several stronger storms in the Lowcountry that have produced high winds and heavy rain. With new hatchlings of many species making their way into the world, these storms can prematurely put them at risk of exposure to life outside of their nest. The following story taught me some things about wildlife rescue and prompted me to share the importance of keeping our wildlife wild:
I was working outside one September morning after a particularly strong storm and found the body of a baby squirrel—which will heretofore be referred to as a squirrelet, even if it isn’t a real word. The animal lover in me was saddened to find him already deceased, but I put his body in the marsh to continue the circle of life. Three days later I returned to the same spot to find the body of another squirrelet. Assuming he suffered the same fate as his brother, I picked him up to put his body in the marsh when he started to move!
Not having any sort of wildlife rescue training, I only had common sense to work with. His eyes were still unopened and his body was soaked from the previous night’s rain. I looked around for a while trying to locate his nest. With no luck, I figured the best thing for him right away was to get him warm and dry. Wrapping him in a rag from my car, he curled up inside shirt pocket for the remainder of my work day.
At the end of my work day, I turned to Google to teach me how to best help this little guy. First things first, he got a name—Burrito. From there, Google taught me that Burrito was about 2-3 weeks old, because he had fur but his eyes were unopened. After reading several different sources and watching many YouTube videos from certified pros in animal rescue, priority #1 was hydrating Burrito. Apparently, a squirrelets’s preferred human liquid is Pedialyte! Based on a skin turgor test, which is where you lightly pinch the skin to test how hydrated someone or something is, Burrito was thirsty. Using a syringe, I gave Burrito some warm Pedialyte sweetened with a bit of honey (also recommended) every few hours. Proper rehydration also meant I had to help him relieve himself—a task that mama squirrels naturally do for their babies. I’ll spare those details, but this video can teach you how to simulate this.
Because Burrito was so thirsty, I focused mainly on rehydrating him and less on feeding him the puppy milk replacement that was recommended to feed squirrelets. Apparently if you feed squirrelets before they are properly hydrated, they can get life-threatening diarrhea. However, if you’re ever in the position where you need to feed a hydrated squirrelet, ensure that you check how much to give them based on their approximate weight and/or age—feeding them too much can hurt them more than you would think.
After getting Burrito settled into a shoebox with warm linens, I moved on to researching where I could get him some professional help (which is the main reason I wanted to share this story). Although our group of Master Naturalists generally understands that baby animals are best returned to their natural mothers, others outside of our circle may want to try to raise a cute baby animal in their own homes. This can be very dangerous and prevent the animal from being capable of returning to the wild. Throughout this adventure, I found that the Lowcountry has an organization called Keeper of the Wild who will take on most wild animals in need of rescue. On their website is a list of locations where you can drop off wildlife and a team member will later pick them up. If an injured bird of prey is found, the best place to contact is the Center for Birds of Prey. Another recommendation that I have is to use your network. I reached out to several friends, many of them being graduates of the Master Naturalist program and/or others in a science related field. They helped me to find Keeper of the Wild and other informational sources that helped me give Burrito the best care possible until I could get him to a professional.
My main message here is this: keep wildlife wild. All of us reading this share an interest in our natural world and preservation of this world depends on our wildlife. To keep wild animals as pets can be harmful to all parties. Of course, there are exceptions to the rule; but let’s continue to educate others about the importance of keeping our wildlife wild! Although I was never able to learn the fate of Burrito after I dropped him off to the pros, I hope his story can teach us all a little something about wildlife rescue.