What to Do if You Find Hurt or Abandoned Wildlife

Would you know what to do if you came across an injured animal in the wild?. (Photo: MichelleHodgson/Shutterstock)

Let's say you're cruising along on the highway, listening to your kids chatter in the backseat and mentally making a shopping list for dinner, when suddenly you spot an injured animal on the side of the road. Would you know what to do?

For starters, you should find a safe place to pull over so that you can assess the situation. Then follow these do's and don'ts so that you can be sure to get the animal the help it needs.

Do take a moment to figure out if the animal is actually in need of assistance. As was the case with the baby bison that was loaded into a car by well-meaning but ill-informed tourists at Yellowstone, just because an animal looks lonely does not mean it needs help. Wild animals are always better off in nature unless they are too injured or immature to survive.

Don't touch the animal near the head if possible. Wild animals, particularly those who are injured and afraid, are likely to bite to protect themselves.

Do figure out where you are. If you are on a trail, write down your location so that when the animal returns to good health, rehabilitators can release it back where it came from. If you find an animal on the side of the road, note your location so that you can let authorities know where to find you.

Do call for help. Once you are sure the animal needs assistance (you see blood, broken bones or a dead parent nearby), contact your local wildlife rehabilitation center (find one here), animal shelter, humane society or veterinarian. If you don't have access to any of these phone numbers, call 911.

Do prepare a box or paper bag that you can use to transport the animal. Punch holes in the box for air and line it with a T-shirt or towel. According to the Wild Things Sanctuary, you can also place a box (with airholes) on top of the animal to keep it quiet and calm until help arrives.

Do wear thick gloves and use a towel or blanket to scoop up the animal unless you are advised against doing so by wildlife rehabilitators.

Don't offer the animal any food or water, say the experts at The Humane Society. It's likely that the animal is in pain and in shock, so feeding it food or water could cause it to choke. Focus your attention on getting the animal to a care facility as quickly as possible where they can determine what the animal needs.

Don't bother the animal. You may have good intentions, but humans are still terrifying to wild animals. Put the animal in a dark, quiet place away from kids, pets, air conditioners, heaters and TVs until animal control arrives or you are able to transport the animal to a rehab facility.

Do get the animal to help as quickly as possible. If the animal is injured, it is likely stressed and in pain. If it was abandoned, it may have been hours or even days since it had food or water. The faster you can get it to the experts, the more likely it will survive.