By Jennifer Howard -- As Spring emerges, so does our hibernating wildlife – often dozy and hungry, and sometimes sick.
Even though your intentions might be good, you should never approach a wild animal, especially if it seems sick. Do not try to take care of it yourself. An animal that is cornered will lash out to protect itself. That’s all it knows. You are its enemy, the biggest predator it has.
Never offer food to wild animals, as they will become habituated to humans, and not all humans are kind.
If you see a wild animal that seems sick or in distress, call a wildlife rehabilitation facility such as Procyon Wildlife Rehabilitation and Education Centre in Beeton (705-729-0033; procyonwildlife.com). Or go online to OntarioWildlifeRescue.ca and click on Wildlife Centres to find the wildlife rehab centre closest to you.
A lot of people mistake distemper for rabies, and rabies and distemper can appear very similar. But from 2015 to today, there have been only 457 cases of confirmed rabies in Ontario, mostly in southern areas of the province and not in the Lake Simcoe area.
The Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry has a program where they drop bait with rabies vaccine in it for wild animals to eat, giving them protection from rabies. The program has shown to be working.
Recently, however, there was a report of a man who was bitten by a raccoon that he thought was rabid, so he shot it in the head. In order to test an animal for rabies, the brain needs to be intact. The raccoon probably was suffering from distemper, but there is no way to find out.
A wild animal that can get rabies is called a vector species. This includes raccoons, foxes, skunks, and bats. It is very important to keep your pets vaccinated to protect them from rabies – not to mention, it is the law to do so.
Rabies can be transmitted between animals only, and it is passed through saliva of infected animals. They can appear lethargic, dehydrated, foam at the mouth, disoriented, and seem more friendly towards humans. They suffer seizures and finally go into a coma.
However, distemper can look very similar - which is why people assume a sick animal has rabies and they panic.
Humans do not get distemper. It is transmitted only between animals, and your pets should be protected if they are vaccinated properly. The symptoms include runny eyes and nose, dehydration, laboured breathing, possible pneumonia, vomiting, and again seem friendly. They may be seen curled up and disoriented, confused, and may have seizures.
This time of year, it is common to see raccoons out during the day, as they may have babies to feed, or they may be hungry and searching for food after hibernating. Even though raccoons are usually nocturnal, if they are out during the day it does not mean they are rabid.
Habitat is disappearing at an alarming rate, forcing wildlife to live near us. Keep them wild, keep them safe. This in turn keeps you, your family and pets safe. We can all co-exist. Don’t panic and don’t approach them. Make that call to get them help.
Article and photos by Jennifer Howard, an award-winning wildlife photographer (Nature Works Photography) and volunteer at Procyon Wildlife Rehabilitation and Education Centre, which rehabilitates injured and orphaned wildlife. Her first book, on Ontario turtles, is being printed by Toronto Zoo's Adopt a Pond program. She has worked side-by-side with wildlife rescuers and rehabilitators, learning about illnesses that affect wildlife and helping to care for injured and sick animals and abandoned baby animals. “I live for my photography and for my wildlife friends,” she says. “My life is very rewarding.”