Connecting you with nature
I knew something was wrong when I saw the photographer posting images of a squirrel roaming around a household refrigerator. The wildlife protector in me cringed. Some would see it as wildlife exploitation. I saw it as probably illegal and exploitative. I’ve debated whether to post this story because I’m not a believer in finger pointing or embarrassing people who have made honest mistakes. The reason I decided to post it, is its value in raising awareness, educating, and protecting wildlife. In describing the events, I don’t reveal names or companies because it’s not my goal to make headlines or embarrass. I believe the photographer whose actions are described, understood and accepted the mistake once I explained it, and then took actions to fix it.
I belong to a few photography organizations and post on social media. I follow other photographers and enjoy viewing the gifts and talents of fellow photographers. I came across a few dozen public photographs posted by a well-followed photographer that showed a squirrel in various settings in close contact with humans in a house. After scrolling through the squirrel photos, the photo of a squirrel in a refrigerator (composed to suggest, “what will squirrel have for dinner?”) cemented my alarm. I contacted the photographer. The story goes that the photographer found in her/his yard what was believed to be an orphaned baby squirrel. The family’s pet cat was also in the yard, which worried the photographer. As often happens, our caring and nurturing human selves led the photographer to “rescue” the baby squirrel. The photographer then kept the baby squirrel for several months, raised it, and documented it on at least two highly recognized websites, showing repeated pet-like human interactions with the squirrel.
I asked if the photographer had the appropriate licenses and permits to hold and care for wildlife, including the squirrel. The answer was no, and why was I asking? All the licensed wildlife rehabilitators out there already know the answer, but, of course, not everyone knows that in most states, laws and regulations govern the possession and rehabilitation of wildlife. While the rules differ from state to state and species to species, taking a wild animal into care/captivity, without the required licenses and permits (and the training that backs those up) is usually illegal.
I informed the photographer that he/she could be in violation of state laws regarding the rescue and care of wildlife. I also informed him/her that one of the photography websites where the squirrel photos were being posted has a code of ethics for photographers and the photographer appears to have violated the code. The ethics code prohibits photos obtained in violation of local laws – likely the case if the photographer lived in a state that requires licenses and permits for wildlife rehabilitation.
While all the photos that were posted showed a healthy-looking squirrel, I informed the photographer that he/she needed to contact a local licensed rehabilitator or their state division of wildlife to decide arrangements for this squirrel. Sadly, because the squirrel was hand-raised by humans, it may never be able to survive in the wild. If it is released, and hasn’t learned to fear humans, it will follow humans, possibly begging or harassing them for food --- most humans won’t accept this or tolerate it. Imagine being hounded by a hungry squirrel, who only knows humans as its source for food, as you’re out for your walk. Let’s hope that the photographer's well-intended human intervention (“rescue”) hasn’t doomed the squirrel’s ability to survive in the wild where it’s best equipped to live.
Raising a wild animal in captivity without the proper training is never recommended and is illegal in most states. “The regulation of wildlife rehabilitation involves many areas of the law; some of which are not immediately obvious. There is no legal “right” to rehabilitate wildlife and existing regulations exist as an exception to the legal norm (that possession of wildlife for any purpose is unlawful).” (Source: https://www.animallaw.info/article/overview-wildlife-rehabilitation-laws.) The best outcome for all wildlife is to be raised in its natural environment by a species-specific caretaking parent, or parents, as appropriate. The most compassionate thing you can do to help an animal that is genuinely in need is to hand it over to someone who has the proper training and license. It is easier than ever to locate licensed wildlife rehabilitators.
Here’s a few simple ways how:
Here’s a source to check a state’s legal requirements for rehabbers:
There are so many excellent resources out there to help people get information on what to do when they find what appears to be an injured or sick wild animal. I’ve provided some detailed information on squirrels.
From the Wildlife Center of Virginia: https://www.wildlifecenter.org/baby-squirrels
Ideas for Re-Nesting a Baby Squirrel: https://www.wildlifecenter.org/re-nesting-baby-squirrels