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Rescuers brace for seasonal surge of abandoned wildlife

By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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The trickle of infant animals found on wilderness trails or urban backyards and taken in by Gold Country Wildlife Rescue volunteers will soon turn into a flood. It's mating season in the wildlands of the foothills and for the 20-year-old organization of wildlife rehabbers, that means a chance to provide a little help to Mother Nature as lost or abandoned babies begin to be born and found abandoned. We're getting more and more mammals, said veteran volunteer Sherry Bast of Auburn. They're just running out of room. With a wild turkey nursing an injured foot hovering nearby, rural Auburn resident Mikel Ann Hicks nestled a newborn gray squirrel in a finger as it sucked contentedly Monday on a blunt-ended syringe filled with nourishing puppy formula. The female squirrel, all of two ounces, was found on a trail by a little girl as she walked near Folsom Lake. During the coming birthing season, Hicks said she expects to take in her share of gray and red squirrels babies. She'll keep them for from 12 to 16 weeks and then release them into the uncertain future they face in the wild. Without the imprinted fear of predators they would learn from their parents, they know no fear and could fall prey to cats or dogs. So Hicks keeps no cats or dogs on her property and hopes the young squirrels can make it through their first fear-inducing brushes with predators. The red squirrels normally start arriving in March, gray squirrels in April. So the two in Hicks' care are early-season visitors. During the course of the spring and summer, Hicks also expects to rehabilitate birds, raccoons, opossums and almost any other bird or animal that turns up needing help. At this time of year, people who spot a baby that appears to be orphaned have to be aware that the mother may be nearby. In the case of squirrels, the mother could be in a tree and waiting for a chance to come down, pick the infant up in its mouth like a cat would and take it up with her to safety, Hicks said. Little ones can't regulate their body temperature though and a mother won't take cold ones, Hicks said. The best thing to do is put the squirrel back with its parents but if it's injured or abandoned, it can be taken home and warmed with a heating pad. In some instances, a little helping hand is in order but the rescue service warns that the first question would-be rescuers must answer is whether that animal really needs help. From there, contact can be made to the Wildlife Rescue 24-hour assistance line. The number is (530) 885-0862. Gold Country Wildlife Rescue is a multi-faceted nonprofit organization centered around animal and bird rehabilitation. The Journal's Gus Thomson can be reached at gust@goldcountrymedia.com, or post a comment at auburnjournal.com.