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red rat snake (corn snake) at Ijams Nature Center

Wild Animal Care FAQs

Ijams Nature Center is not a wildlife rehabilitation facility and CANNOT take in wildlife, but we can help you find assistance!

Wildlife Care Frequently Asked Questions

We know the human need to care for an animal, but being untrained in the medical needs of the animal often causes more damage, and can cause death. So what should you do if you find a wild baby or injured animal?



Please secure the animal in something such as a cardboard box in a warm, quiet place, and reach out to the following resources:


If the animal is severely injured, contact UT Vet school at +1865-974-8387Please note: UT only accepts injured wildlife from 8 am to 10 pm on weekdays.


If the animal is an orphan, or UT is unable to help, next find a state-licensed wildlife rehabilitator. Search by animal, and find someone in your area. IJAMS IS NOT A REHABILITATION FACILITY, AND CANNOT ACCEPT WILDLIFE.


If you are unable to find help close by, please join the East Tennessee Wildlife Rehabilitation Council Facebook group. The group is full of licensed rehabbers who will give you advice and help you find a place to take the animal.


The following information, provided by Mountain Wildlife, offers advice about what to do if you find a wild animal.

DO NOT offer food or water. If you find an uninjured baby bird that is easy to capture, every effort should be made to get it back with its mother. Because most birds feed their young during daylight hours, reuniting baby birds must only be attempted during the day. The best chance of survival for baby birds is with its parents!


The idea that wild parents will not accept their baby once touched by a human is a myth. Always keep handling to a minimum when moving them out of harm’s way.


If it has feathers, it is a fledgling. It is normal for it to hop on the ground. The parents are still feeding it. Leave it alone unless it is in danger from a cat/dog. If that is the case, put the fledgling in a tree or bush, and watch from a distance for parents to return.


If it does NOT have feathers, it is a nestling. Put the nestling back in the nest. If unable to return it to the nest, make a substitute. Poke holes in the bottom of a berry basket or plastic container. Line it with dry grass or pine needles. Hang it from the tree that housed the original nest or close by, and ensure babies are protected from direct sun. Put the baby in the nest and watch for parents from a distance.



DO NOT offer food or water. If you find an uninjured young squirrel that is easy to capture, every effort should be made to get it back to its mother. Mother gray squirrels have more than one nest site and will move their young naturally due to a variety of triggers. Squirrel mothers are very attentive and will almost always retrieve their young if given the opportunity. Gray squirrels are only active during the day and retreat to their nests at night. Reuniting young must only be attempted during daylight hours.


Contain the young squirrel(s) - Wearing gloves and/or using a clean cloth, scoop the young squirrel into an open-topped container just deep enough to prevent escape (box, storage bin, etc.).


Ensure the baby squirrel is warm - Very young squirrels may need help getting warmed up before the reuniting process. Very young squirrels are not able to stay warm without supplemental heat. Offer one of the following supplemental heat sources during the reuniting process:


  • Heating pad set on LOW under container.

  • Chemical hand warmers (e.g. Hot Hands® or similar brand) wrapped in a clean cloth, placed inside at one end of the container.

  • Sock warmer: Pour one cup of dry rice or bird seed into a clean tube sock. Tie the sock end and ensure there are no holes or loose strings. Microwave the sock for approximately 30 seconds to one minute (should be warm when placed on the underside of the wrist, not hot). Place sock at one end of the reuniting container.

Reunite the family - Secure the container, with baby inside, in the nest tree or a tree as close as possible to where the baby was found, as high as you are able to reach. The container may be placed at the base of the tree if it is not possible to secure it off the ground and if it can be monitored closely. Protect from harsh elements such as strong direct sunlight or rain.


If the baby is not retrieved by nightfall, bring it indoors for the evening. Keep in a warm, quiet place away from people and pets. Do not feed or offer water. At dawn, return the young to the reuniting site. Healthy baby squirrels should be available for the mother squirrel to retrieve during daylight hours for up to two 12-hour periods.



DO NOT offer food or water. Opossum babies do not suckle and basically swallow their mother’s nipple, staying latched on to feed. Until old enough to lap food, they must be tube fed.


The opossum is the only marsupial native to North America. When babies are born, they are the size of a honeybee. Their front legs are fully formed, allowing them to pull themselves up the mother's belly and into her pouch. A mother opossum may have up to 13 young in her pouch. These babies may be displaced if their mother runs to evade predators or is injured. Opossums with a body length of less than seven inches (not including tail length) are not able to survive without their mothers.


If a baby opossum is found - Keep the opossum(s) in a warm, quiet place. Search the area for other babies. If the mother is dead, it may be necessary to look inside the pouch for live young. Contact a wildlife rehabilitator for further assistance.



Protect yourself and the baby raccoons. NEVER handle without gloves. DO NOT offer food or water.


If one or more baby raccoons are found on the ground - The babies should be placed in a secure container (e.g., a pet transport crate) and kept in a dark quiet place. The container should be deep enough that the babies cannot escape but still allow the adult raccoon to retrieve her young. At dusk, place the container on the ground where the babies were found and leave it outside from dusk until daylight. Keep the area dark, quiet, and clear of people and pets. If the mother does not return by daylight, contact a wildlife rehabilitator for further assistance.


If a den tree has fallen or been cut down - Gather young and place in secure, towel-lined box in a dark, quiet place. Place the box close to the downed tree den. Keep the area clear of humans and pets, and replace the young at dusk. If the babies are not retrieved by daylight, contact a wildlife rehabilitator for further assistance.


If several young are found in a trash can or dumpster - It is likely that they have followed their mother in a search for food and were unable to free themselves. Raccoons at this age should not be handled. Simply turn the trash can onto its side to free the young. A board or tree branch with proper traction can be placed diagonally in a dumpster to give the raccoons a way to climb out safely. Raccoons are nocturnal and may not exit the dumpster until it is dark and quiet.


If one or several raccoon babies are observed in a tree - A mother raccoon may leave her babies perched in a tree where they are easily visible. Attempts to rescue these youngsters may result in the emergence of a very angry mother raccoon. If the baby raccoons have been observed in the same spot for over 24 hours, contact a wildlife rehabilitator for further assistance.


If the raccoon seems confused, is circling, falling over, or stumbling - This raccoon is most likely ill and may be infected with distemper or rabies. Keep yourself and pets away. An animal with rabies or distemper can NOT be rehabilitated. Euthanizing this sick animal will end its suffering and save countless other animals who could become infected on contact. Please call your local health department, Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency dispatch, or your local animal control.



NEVER relocate a box turtle. Research shows that box turtles have homing instincts and can spend all of their energy trying to return to their home.


If you find a healthy turtle in your yard - It could be a female turtle selecting a nest site or a male looking for a mate. If it is not injured, the best thing to do is leave it alone and observe from a distance, allowing it to carry on undisturbed.


If you find a healthy turtle in the road - Move the turtle across the road in the direction it is headed. Large turtles, such as the common snapping turtle, can be gently pushed out of the road with a blunt object. Once safely on the roadside, observe the turtle momentarily to make sure it continues heading away from the road.


If you find an injured turtle - Call a wildlife rehabilitator for assistance.



PLEASE PUT THE BUNNY BACK! DO NOT offer food or water. The best chance of survival for young rabbits is with their mother. Checking your yard for nests prior to mowing or keeping domestic cats indoors would prevent the majority of rehab rabbit intakes.


Cottontail rabbits bear young in a shallow depression in the ground lined with grass and fur from the mother's belly. The mother is rarely seen because she doesn't want to draw attention to the nest; she visits to feed the young only once or twice a day, usually around dawn and dusk. Young rabbits depend on their mother's care until they are about 21 days old. At that age, they are only about the size a tennis ball, but are completely independent and self-sufficient.


If you have discovered an occupied nest in your yard - Leave the nest in place. If it was accidentally uncovered, replace the covering of dried grass (and fur, if present). If the babies are out of the nest, use a clean cloth or wear gardening gloves and gently gather and replace them in the nest if they are easily retrieved.


DO NOT CHASE young rabbits that are old enough to evade capture. Keep the area free of people and pets, and allow the young to return to the nest on their own.

Although it is best to avoid or minimize any nest disturbance, wild mothers do NOT automatically "abandon" their young if they've been moved or touched by humans. Wild cottontails need their mother's care.


If the nest has been disturbed or "destroyed" and the young are not injured - Rebuild the nest in its original location using original nest material if available (dried grass and mother's fur), or pull soft grass to line and cover the nest. Place young inside and follow the instructions below to "test the nest to see if Mom's been back:"


  • To protect the nest from pets or other disturbance: An inverted wheelbarrow propped up on one end (four to six inches) or a disabled lawnmower with the blades in the highest position can be placed over the nest to protect it while still allowing mother rabbit to fit under to feed her young.

  • To protect young rabbits while mowing: Place an inverted laundry basket over the nest and keep a distance of at least 10 feet. Remove the laundry basket before evening.

  • Test the nest to see if mom's been back: With young rabbits in the nest, place four pieces of yarn or twigs over the nest in a "tic-tac-toe" pattern. Check the following morning to see if the mother has displaced the string. If the string is still in place, it does not necessarily mean the babies are orphaned. Contact a wildlife rehabilitator for further assistance.


A mother doe will leave her fawn alone for up to 22 hours a day while she goes to forage. With its natural defense technique against predators, the fawn, who has virtually no scent, will lay motionless for hours.


If a fawn is found - PLEASE LEAVE IT ALONE. Keep the area as quiet as possible, free of people and pets.


If the fawn has already been removed from the wild - RETURN IT TO WHERE IT WAS FOUND. The mother is almost certainly waiting. The fawn should be placed as close as possible to the original location and left alone. When she feels it is safe, the mother will return.

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