PELHAM, Ala. (AP) — Wildlife lovers are protesting a new state rule they say is a death sentence for helpless baby raccoons, skunks and other wild animals in Alabama.
The Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources said Thursday it will no longer issue permits for the rehabilitation of raccoons, skunks, opossums, foxes, coyotes, feral pigs or bats. Anyone who finds an orphaned animal should leave it in the wild, the agency says, and humane organizations should euthanize any of the animals they receive.
“Basically there is no biological reason to rehabilitate these animals,” said biologist Ray Metzler, assistant chief of wildlife for the agency.
Removing orphaned or injured animals from the wild and nursing them interrupts the food chain and could help spread diseases including rabies, Metzler said.
“This may be a cruel way to put it, but it’s survival of fittest,” he said. “It really is.”
The decision has sparked outrage among wildlife workers like John Russ, who takes in 30 or so of the affected species at Shamballa Wildlife Rescue, which he operates with his wife in northeast Alabama.
State rule or not, Russ said he will neither turn away animals to die nor euthanize orphans brought to his shelter at Scottsboro.
“It’s immoral. How could I sleep if I did?” he said.
Kim Robinson of Huntsville, a volunteer with North Alabama Wildlife Rehabilitators, said she is leaving the organization rather than abide by the rule.
“I’m not going to become Conservation’s murder machine,” she said.
Countless numbers of animals die each year after being hit by vehicles or in other accidents and some leave behind their young. The state does not keep statistics on how many wild animals are rescued annually so it’s impossible to say how many might be affected by the new rule.
State law includes possible fines for illegal possession of wild animals in some cases, but it’s unclear might happen to wildlife rehabilitators who continue trying to save orphaned or ill animals.
Metzler said the agency came up with the rule as it attempted to develop Alabama’s first standardized policies for regulating organizations that take in wild animals.
Animals like baby raccoons are cute, and people like saving them. But orphaned animals often become food for larger predators in the wild, Metzler said. He added that taking them out of the woods can have a ripple effect on other species.
“Animals die every day. Every animal has to eat, and every animal has its place in the food chain,” he said.
Also, Metzler said, testing has shown that rabies is spreading beyond its historical boundaries into places like Shelby County in suburban Birmingham, and officials want to minimize the transportation of animals across natural boundaries like rivers to help stem the disease.
Alabama law prohibits the possession of most wild animals without a permit, and the state decided to quit issuing rehabilitation permits for raccoons and the six other species because they’re not endangered or threatened and because they can carry diseases such as rabies, Metzler said.
Alabama does have some engendered bat species, but Metzler said special exemptions could be issued as needed in those rare cases when someone attempts to help one of the winged mammals.
“To be honest, I don’t think many normal people would pick up a bat in their yard,” he said.
Robinson said she expects the rule to create new headaches for health officials since few people would be willing to leave an orphaned animal to die in the wild or turn it over to be euthanized.
People will try to raise wild animals on their own rather than turning them over to trained rehabilitators, creating a greater risk of disease for both humans and domestic animals like dogs and cats, she said.
“I think this new policy is irresponsible and reckless,” said Robinson. “People are not going to kill these cute little animals after they see their mamas killed on the street or something.”
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