Wildlife, Cars and How to Help

Kieran Lindsey

Kieran Lindsey | Jul 08, 2019

As wildlife and people increasingly occupy the same communities it’s inevitable we’ll run into one another now and then. In a bad way. Even the most careful, vigilant driver can’t always avoid hitting a wild creature that suddenly darts or flies into the street. Swerving to avoid the impact is never a good idea

We all know what to do when a human is injured in an accident—whip out our trusty smartphone and dial 911. If we’re trained in emergency response we might assist until the professionals arrive. But what can we do to help when the injury is to a non-human animal?

Safety First

Don’t be a hero—you can’t help an injured animal by putting yourself in danger. Roadside rescues in particular require a cool head and awareness of safety precautions.

The animal doesn’t know you are trying to help.You may interpret its behavior otherwise, especially if the animal is in shock, but trust me on this. The natural world operates by different rules than human culture; with the exception of young mammals being transported by their parents, the only time a wild animal is picked up is right before it becomes a meal. You’ll be viewed as a predator or scavenger by any wild creature you’re trying to assist, despite your Samaritan intentions, so keep the following in mind:

  • Stay calm
  • Ensure your own safety
  • Pull off the road, put on your hazard lights, don’t run out into traffic
  • Don’t handle an injured wild animal without guidance from a wildlife rehabilitator
  • Call for help - see “Get the App” below to find a nearby expert who can assist by:

Be Prepared

Having a wildlife rescue kit in the car can be a life-saver. Most of the items listed below can be stowed in a cardboard box reducing clutter and providing convenient access.

  • paper grocery bags of various sizes - for songbirds and some small mammals (paper bags aren’t air-tight so there’s no need to create holes for circulation)
  • medium collapsible cardboard carrier - for small- to medium-size mammals, reptiles, and larger birds
  • pillowcases - for snakes and lizards
  • thick work gloves - to protect your hands and arms from teeth, beaks, and claws
  • tight weave towel and blanket - to capture and immobilize animals
  • fishing net - with respect to birds replace the net with lightweight cloth
  • dust-broom or hoe - to coax or lift the animal into a carrier or away from a dangerous area
  • flashlight - not all animal-vehicle collisions occur during the day
  • rubber bands and a small stapler (to close paper bags and pillowcases)
  • multi-use tool - handy for cutting materials that may have ensnared an animal

Get the App

Drivers in the US can download the free Animal Help Now! app for iPhone or Android to easily find the a nearby wildlife rehabilitation provider. Developed by Animal Watch, a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization supported by volunteers and financial supporters who recognized that caring people don’t always know where to turn to help with animal emergencies. The app recognizes your location and with a single tap identifies all of the closest wildlife rescue professionals, including phone number for immediate contact. Animal Help Now! also provides other help with:

  • identifying the animal and any potential threat it may pose to you
  • providing specific instructions on how to help, such as handling and transportation guidelines, or asking you to stay put until experienced help arrive

Finally, if you’re instructed to transport the animal to a rehabilitation facility, drive slowly and carefully, and remember that fear causes unpredictable behavior in wildlife and people alike.

Here's a story with a happy ending, from a while back. A small bird of prey called a kestrel, focused on grabbing a snack, forgot to look both ways before crossing the street in Norfolk, England.  Both the bird and the dead mouse ended up trapped in the grille of the vehicle. The driver proceeded slowly to an auto repair shop and, thanks to some good luck and careful mechanics, the story ended happily, at least for the bird. No broken bones, no serious damage--just some ruffled feathers and a short stay at the local RSPCA facilities (the mouse was a goner pre-impact).

Mechanics managed to safely extract the bird.

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