KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — Do you know what to do if you find a wild baby animal? What if it’s injured or not? There’s actually a set of rules and helpful links for that from the state.

Many have seen images of young wildlife getting rescued especially after an injury or orphaning: the cuddly videos set to playful music swelling to hopeful voiceovers and a tidy font floating above the scene – but there’s more work to it than what is seen on social media.

In Tennessee, which boasts an incredible variety of wildlife and biodiversity, injured baby animals are often happened upon as Tennesseans and visitors recreate outdoors, especially in the spring. The Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency says it is illegal for unlicensed individuals to offer veterinary care or possess wildlife, as doing such can potentially be harmful to the animal and people in the household.

What if I find an uninjured wild baby animal?

The TWRA says oftentimes for finding uninjured baby wildlife, the best course of action is to leave it where you found it as many young animals that may appear orphaned are just waiting for their mother to return to them. This is often the case with White-tailed deer and wild Cottontail rabbits.

But, if the mother does not return to her baby or babies within 48 hours, that’s when a human who found them (and hopefully has kept their distance) can reach out to a licensed Tennessee wildlife rehabilitator.

Or, allow nature to take its course.

What if I find an injured wild animal?

In some instances, a found wild animal may need more help. The best thing to do after careful observation is to call an expert.

The National Wildlife Rehabilitators Association has a list of criteria on whether a baby animal should be rescued or not:

  • It needs more observation if the animal or bird is nesting, or if a fawn is curled up and sleeping fine (mother deer usually are out browsing for 6-8 hours a day), or if baby bunnies are left alone in their burrow or nest.
  • It needs rescuing if the baby wild animal has an obvious injury such as bleeding, broken limbs, is cold or limp, or has open wounds with flies buzzing around.

There are animal experts and licensed animal rehabilitators who specialize in specific kinds of wildlife. The TWRA lists more on what to do and who to call on its information page featuring Tennessee Licensed Animal Rehabilitators.

You can find a Tennessee wildlife rehabilitator by animal identification.

Other notes about baby wildlife in Tennessee

It’s important to note that TWRA says wildlife rehabilitators do not pick animals up for rescue – if you find an animal and a rehabilitator can accept the animal, you will need to arrange transportation to deliver the animal to the wildlife rehabilitator. 

Also, wildlife rehabilitators in Tennessee are no longer permitted to accept White-tailed deer fawns. The restriction is part of the state’s effort to minimize the spread of diseases through human-aided movements and to keep White-tailed deer wild.

Earlier this month, TWRA also shared tips about fawns, squirrels, rabbits and more on its social media, which can be found here in its photos section, but the main message from TWRA about finding uninjured fawns alone: “Please don’t take wildlife from nature.”