Wild bunnies, ducklings and raccoons are undeniably adorable. But if you’re considering bringing one of these little cuties into your home as a pet, we’ve got some bad news for you. Not only is harboring a wild animal illegal—even quasi-wild ones like the infamous Ocean Beach parrots—it’s detrimental to their (and possibly your) well-being.
“It’s never a good idea to treat a wild animal as a pet, because they aren’t domesticated—no matter what, they’re still going to have their wild animal tendencies,” says Project Wildlife Education Specialist Carly Padilla. For instance, an animal that’s docile around you and your family may perceive a guest with an unfamiliar scent as a threat and lash out.
“Wild animals deserve to be in the wild. They deserve to have their territory, their ranges, their proper diet. Pets are meant to be in the house; that’s why they have gone through those years of domestication.”
Even if you’re not bringing animals into your home, leaving food out or actively feeding them as you would a pet is a no-no, too. “Animals have been finding food their entire life without us,” Padilla says. They don’t need us to feed them, and when we do, they get used to being around people and become less self-reliant. Even seemingly innocuous activities like tossing bread crusts to ducks is causing more harm than good. A lot of the food we eat isn’t healthy for wildlife. Ducks have a pouch of sorts in their throat called a crop where food sits waiting to be digested. If it can’t be processed, though, it just sits there and rots and could cause damage down the road.
Bird feeders are an exception, though Padilla says it’s a catch-22. They’re great for helping migratory birds, but if you’re not cleaning up whatever birdseed falls on the ground, the rodents will—and where they go, coyotes and other predators follow. Also, raptors like hawks and falcons will stake out bird feeders and wait for prey, which can include smaller birds.
Found an injured animal and want to rehabilitate it in your home? Don’t. State law gives you only two days to relinquish wild animals to a licensed rehabilitator.
Bottom line, Padilla says, “If you want a pet, go to San Diego Humane Society and adopt one, or go to another shelter. There’s a ton of animals who want to be in your home.”
SATELLITE VOLUNTEERS IN ORBIT
About 90 San Diegans have outfitted their homes with aviaries, hutches or another kind of animal abode for Project Wildlife. These so-called satellite volunteers are each trained in caring for a certain type of animal. They keep in close contact with staff, writing notes in an online database and bringing the animals in for examinations as needed. “It’s so interesting to see parts of nature we’re not often privy to,” says Danielle Ross. “You can see a baby rabbit up close, see how they eat, and you’re helping them by doing it.”
The animals who grow strong again and can thrive in the wild ultimately get released. For the animal’s safety and for ecological reasons, Project Wildlife tries to place them as close as possible to where they were found. Species who travel in packs, like doves and pigeons, must be released as a group, to form their own flock. “This program allows the public to be involved in the care of so many species,” Ross says. “And when we get them back into the world and give them a shot at living, it’s supporting the incredible biodiversity of this county.”