It's undeniable-baby wild animals are adorable. It's understandable why you might think that raising a wild animal as a pet is a tempting and exciting idea. However, when wild animals grow up they can become dangerous and very unpredictable. Stories about wild animals who have been kept as pets attacking and injuring people, often fatally, are frequently in the news. Even small animals such as squirrels can deliver a nasty bite or scratch when their natural instincts kick in.
Physical injury is just one of the risks of keeping a wild animal. Many wild animals carry zoonotic diseases (illnesses that can be transferred from animals to humans), such as Brucellosis, Salmonella and Ringworm. They often carry parasites, as well, that can be transmitted to humans or other pets. Any way you look at it, keeping a wild animal as a pet is a dangerous proposition.
In Washington State:
(If you do not live in Washington State, check with the agency responsible for managing wildlife in your state to learn about current laws.)
Wild animals have evolved over the course of millions of years as independent, free-living beings. They have needs, instincts and behaviors that are inseparably tied both to their appropriate habitat, and to a free-living state. It is inappropriate and inhumane to force a wild animal to live the captive life of a pet.
No matter how well designed a captive habitat may be, it can never replicate the freedom that wild animals require to be complete beings. A permanently captive wild animal is doomed to a life of confusion and stress as he attempts to reconcile instinctual urges with foreign surroundings. Wild animals belong in the wild.
Habituation is a process by which animals gradually get used to situations they would normally avoid. Many animals are easily habituated if they are not handled and managed properly during rehabilitation. Coupled with the unpredictable nature of wild animals, habituation is dangerous for humans and wild animals. Habituated animals cannot be returned to the wild, because they are likely to become nuisances or an outright danger to humans, which in turn jeopardizes the animals.
If they are strongly habituated to humans, wild animals may not be able to survive on their own. PAWS and other wildlife rehabilitators go to great lengths to avoid habituating the animals in their care. If you try to rehabilitate a sick, injured or orphaned wild animal without the proper training, skills, permits and knowledge of how to avoid habituating that animal, you may ruin the animal's chance for being released back to the wild.
Sometimes well-meaning people bring wild animals to PAWS after they have illegally kept the animals for a period of time. This occurs when someone is not aware of wildlife rehabilitation or the law, and is just trying to help a wild animal in distress. Regardless of how long you have been caring for the animal, it is best to take him to a licensed wildlife rehabilitator right away. The sooner the animal can be evaluated and given the proper care by experienced, professional personnel, the greater the chance the animal may be returned to the wild.
Above: A Cougar in the wild