Experts are always warning us: please do not try to rescue baby animals. Despite this, some people still end up learning the hard way that it's not a good idea.
One such person was a woman from Weld County, Colorado, who recently found and adopted a baby raccoon. Thinking it had been abandoned by its mother, she brought it home with her and contacted a local animal shelter for rehabilitation, according to local news outlet the Greeley Tribune. But not before she invited a full 20 other people to coo over the critter – and unwittingly caused the biggest rabies exposure case ever for her county.
Luckily, the animal shelter – who couldn't take the raccoon, presumably because, well, it's a wild raccoon – alerted the Weld County Department of Public Health and Environment, who tested the animal for rabies. Because it tested positive, all 20 visitors, plus the raccoon-rescuer herself, must now receive treatment for the life-threatening viral disease.
"This looks like a year for high rabies exposure in animals," said Mark E. Wallace, Executive Director of the Weld County Health Department in a statement about the incident. "It is very important that people not touch or go near wild animals."
This is not the first incident the county's Health Department has had to wade in on: this year has already seen cases of rabies in bats, cats and 10 skunks in the area. "As cute and fuzzy as some wild animals seem, they may carry diseases without appearing sick. These diseases can be life-threatening to humans as well as to their pets," a press release from June warns.
Rabies can be treated by a post-exposure vaccine if caught before symptoms appear, so it's important to seek medical advice if you think you may have been exposed. So far, all 21 people exposed to the baby raccoon are reported by the Greeley Tribune to be "doing OK". The same can probably not be said for the raccoon.
"By touching, feeding, or rescuing a wild animal, you may do more harm than good," explains Wallace. Even in the case of supposedly "abandoned" babies, mothers will usually return – even hours later – to their offspring if left alone by humans. When humans interfere in an attempt to "save" an animal, it often ends up being euthanized.
Tragic examples of misguided wildlife rescue include when this father and son tried to save a baby bison in Yellowstone National Park but separating it from its herd meant they later rejected it and it had to be put down, as well as the woman who took home a harbor seal pup she thought had been abandoned and when it became lethargic and unresponsive it had to be euthanized.
Once again: please do not try to rescue baby animals.
[H/T Live Science]