'Unintentional kidnap' of healthy animals by eager public burdening wildlife hospital

Wildlife Rehabilitation Ireland says members of the public are mistaking healthy wildlife for being injured or abandoned, resulting in them being brought to its hospital unnecessarily
'Unintentional kidnap' of healthy animals by eager public burdening wildlife hospital

A female hedgehog who was found malnourished and underweight at the newly opened Wildlife Rehabilitation Ireland hospital on the grounds of the Tara Na Rí pub in Navan, Co Meath. However, some animals being brought to the hospital are perfectly healthy, according to staff. Picture: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

Members of the public are “unintentionally kidnapping” healthy animals by bringing them to the national wildlife hospital when they are not injured or abandoned, according to the charity behind the service.

In February, Wildlife Rehabilitation Ireland opened what is billed as the country’s first wildlife hospital behind the Tara Na Rí pub in Garlow Cross, on the outskirts of Navan, as an “emergency response” to the growing numbers of wildlife animals needing care.

The hospital is now heading into its “busiest time of the year” and has begun to receive tiny orphans including fox cubs, otter cubs, rabbit kits, leverets and baby birds.

However, Aoife McPartlin, education officer with the charity, said members of the public are mistaking healthy wildlife for being injured or abandoned, resulting in them being brought to the hospital unnecessarily.

Aoife McPartlin, education officer at the Wildlife Rehabilitation Ireland wildlife hospital said members of the public are mistaking healthy wildlife for being injured or abandoned, resulting in them being brought to the hospital unnecessarily. Picture: Brian Lawless/PA Wire
Aoife McPartlin, education officer at the Wildlife Rehabilitation Ireland wildlife hospital said members of the public are mistaking healthy wildlife for being injured or abandoned, resulting in them being brought to the hospital unnecessarily. Picture: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

Ms McPartlin said it was a “colossal” problem, with about 70% of calls during this period last year being about animals that did not need care. 

It particularly happens around birds. What happens is people think ‘oh look a little bird who can’t fly, we better rescue him’. And unfortunately, the parent bird is up in the tree, hysterical, because their baby is being lifted.” 

Ms McPartlin said rabbits and leverets are also often mistaken as being abandoned.

“Rabbits are left in a little nest and leverets are just left in a field. The mother hare goes off for the whole day and then comes back that evening to feed it. But because it’s there by itself all day, people just think it’s abandoned,” she said.

Well-intentioned

Ms McPartlin said while these actions are well-intentioned, it was important the hospital was kept for wildlife who really need care.

“It takes up a huge amount of time, a huge amount of space and obviously it eats into finances as well because these little guys sometimes need to be under heat lamps and that’s your electricity bill,” she said.

It also has a negative impact on the animals when they're separated from their kind.

"Birds are flock animals. We have a baby robin at the minute who is in a cage by himself giving out stink. It's not fair," Ms McPartlin said.

"It’s stressful on the parents and it’s stressful for the youngster. If you imagine just seeing someone coming along, lifting your child, and running away with him. That’s basically what’s happening," she added.

Observe the animals

Members of the public should observe the animals, call the helpline for advice and look out for nearby adult animals before lifting wildlife.

“To distinguish a fit from an injured for the next few months... If you see a bird on the ground, and if it looks like a young bird in particular, it can’t fly. What you’re watching for is if it’s bopping around, does it look otherwise healthy apart from the fact that it can’t fly,” she said.

“If that is the case, you just watch it for 24 or 48 hours. What you’ll notice is it’ll go from bopping along the ground, and maybe the next time you see them they’ll be able to fly up onto your deck chair and then they’ll be able to fly up onto the wall, and then they're gone.” 

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