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Wildlife make good neighbors aboard base

 

MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. --

 

With more than 90,000 acres of forest aboard the base, interaction between members of the community and the animals who reside in the environment is unavoidable.

 

Animals native to Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune range from the abundant to the endangered and threatened. A few make the base, and its neighboring areas, their home, including deer, bears, opossums, foxes and bobcats. The best way to appreciate the base’s creatures is from a distance, said John DeLuca, MCB Camp Lejeune’s wildlife biologist.

 

Encountering an animal and taking a moment to observe it or taking a photo from a distance is a good way to respect wildlife while experiencing it, he added.

 

“If you see a wild animal, enjoy the moment, but don’t approach it,” said DeLuca. “If you approach wildlife, it can harm you or the animal.”

 

Wild animals generally perceive an approaching human as a threat and may respond aggressively. The disturbance caused by an approaching person can cause wildlife to abandon the places where they nest, rest or forage, he added.

 

Handling wild animals is worse than approaching them, said DeLuca. Many well-intentioned people hurt animals or make it impossible for them to survive in the wild by handling them.

 

“(People) may believe a fledgling robin or other songbird was orphaned or abandoned, when in reality the parents are in the area and still looking after the young animal,” said DeLuca.

 

On their own, most wild animals, even babies, are not helpless, he added. They have natural traits and instincts that make it difficult for predators to find them.

 

For instance, very young fawns have no scent and their color serves as camouflage, according to a N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission article. Doe often leave their young in a secluded area for hours at a time and come back periodically to nurse it, said DeLuca. If a person moves the fawn, the mother may be unable to find it, or the human scent may attract predators. Handling other wildlife can also have deadly consequences for people. Foxes, bats, raccoons and skunks transmit rabies and should not be handled under any circumstances.

 

Exceptions to the guideline of not approaching or handling wildlife are few. For instance, you can pick up and move turtles on the road or use a big stick to shuffle non-venomous snakes across the street. “Just make sure you are not dealing with a snapping turtle or a venomous snake, and wash your hands afterward,” said DeLuca.

 

DeLuca suggests leaving an animal where you find it, even if it is injured.

 

“If you encounter an injured animal that is uncommon– like an eagle, hawk, fox squirrel or diamondback terrapin – then please give us a call,” said DeLuca. “Otherwise, we advise folks to leave the animal for predators and scavengers. It may seem cruel at first thought, but it’s all part of the circle of life.”

 

According to the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission, animals will often act more aggressive if they are injured or have a disease. Wildlife sanctuaries, such as Possumwood Acres, a volunteer-based, private organization in Hubert, N.C., are licensed to offer care and assistance to injured animals.

 

Personnel at the sanctuary can offer advice and instructions on how to safely assist an injured animal. Possumwood Acres cares for small mammals, birds and reptiles.

More than 1,000 animals are rehabilitated per year, and 150 disabled animals are cared for at the facility. The nonprofit organization operates using only donations and grants, and with the assistance of volunteers.

 

People who want to rehabilitate a wild animal without proper training or want to keep it as a pet run the risk of hurting the animal and breaking the law.

It is illegal to keep or rehabilitate wild animals without a permit. Even a short stay can be devastating to an animal’s health.

 

“They may take a wild animal in as a pet, try to raise a baby to maturity with the hope to release it or try to nurse an injured wild animal,” said Toni O’Neil, the director of Possumwood Acres Wildlife Sanctuary.

 

Without prior knowledge, it’s difficult to provide for the full nutritional needs of an animal, which can lead to critical health problems and inadvertently ruin the animal’s chances at a long, healthy life, said O’Neil.

 

O’Neil recommends calling a wildlife rehabilitator instead of researching animal care online, which may lead to misinformation.

 

Many facets of nature abound aboard Camp Lejeune. The base contains beaches, swamps and wooded areas which serve as home to a multitude of creatures. While living alongside of them, wildlife professionals ask the base community to show consideration to their neighbors.

 

For information about wildlife aboard Camp Lejeune, e-mail john.j.deluca@usmc.mil or call 451-7226.

 

For volunteer opportunities or to donate to Possumwood Acres Wildlife Sanctuary, visit possumwoodacres.org or call 326-6432.

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