A recent incident on Ampersand Avenue in Saranac Lake is a good reminder that wild animals should be left alone.
In this incident, which took place in late April, four baby squirrels were allegedly harassed by four teenage girls who had supposedly found them on the ground near a tree.
Bonnie Loso said she was returning from work to her house on Ampersand Avenue when she saw the girls tossing and handing something back and forth between them.
Two baby squirrels cling to a tree on Ampersand Avenue in Saranac Lake in late April shortly after they were allegedly harassed by some girls. The young animals were later euthanized and tested for rabies because they came into contact with humans.
(Photo courtesy of Jim Loso)
"I got out of my car and went to see what they were doing and they had somehow gotten the nest for baby squirrels and they had taken four baby squirrels out and were handing them back and forth to each other and screaming and one of the young girls was taking a stick (and flicking it)," Loso said. "She looked like she was peeling potatoes with it."
One girl told Loso she was trying to get fleas off the young animal. Loso told the children to leave the squirrels alone and called her husband, Jim, at work.
"They got mad at me and literally stuck the squirrels to the tree, and they were too weak to get up the tree, so Jim ended up calling the Saranac Lake police department," she said.
Jim grabbed two squirrels from the tree while the other one fell off. He put them in a box because the young babies appeared to be shaking and in need of help. Another went up the tree into a hole out of reach.
"One of them was losing ground fast and literally was going to fall to his death," Bonnie Loso said. "The fourth one was petrified and was up really, really high."
Bonnie Loso said this all started at about 2:30 p.m.
Ultimately, the girl's behavior set off a chain of actions that involved people in numerous walks of life throughout the village, creating a somewhat chaotic scene in which people were doing their best to help these animals.
Loso said a Saranac Lake police officer responded and a state trooper stopped by. Plus, two crews from utility companies dropped in with bucket trucks to get the fourth squirrel out of the tree.
In addition, the Losos contacted a friend who does tree work. Although he had Crocs on his feet and shorts on, he was able to climb the tree using ropes. He gave the young animal some food, but he couldn't coax it to come down.
After a couple hours had passed, the group decided to leave the fourth squirrel alone and take the others to High Peaks Animal Hospital in Ray Brook, hoping the animals would be saved. That was done on the advice of the state Department of Environmental Conservation, which had been contacted by the village policeman, Bonnie Loso said.
When I called the animal hospital about a week after the incident, a woman there told me the three squirrels had been euthanized and referred me to the health department.
When I reached Kathleen Strack, Franklin County public health director, she explained the situation. The squirrels were killed so they could be tested for rabies, a potentially fatal disease. Luckily for the people involved in this incident, the test came up negative.
"Since rabies is fatal, our protocol is that when there is human contact with a wild animal, that's what the health department has to do," Strack said. "More importantly, the message is: Stay away from the wild animals."
DEC wildlife biologist Ed Reed also recommended that anyone who encounters a wild animal of any kind should leave them alone.
"That's what happens," he said. "If you handle them without gloves and proper protection, then you could get bitten or scratched and then it's a rabies issue. It's out of our hands and it's in the Department of Health's."
Although rabies is rare, there have been numerous cases of it showing up in animals in Essex and Clinton counties in recent years. The last case of an animal testing positive for rabies in Franklin County was in 2010, Strack said.
Each situation is different and there are exceptions, but Reed generally recommends that people just leave wildlife alone because they are often capable of surviving on their own. The one exception is when animals are orphaned, which the Losos believed to be the case with these young animals. In that case, he recommends that people call a wildlife rehabilitator, who can capture the animal without coming into contact with it. However, he also warned that just because a wild animal looks orphaned, that isn't always the case. Sometimes the parents are hiding nearby.
"Our first advice to people is to leave them alone," Reed said. "Because usually either the parents are nearby and you just don't know it, or they just don't know enough to survive on their own. Their best chance is to leave them where they are. That's what they are adapted for."
In this case, once the girls began playing with the squirrels they put themselves and the squirrels at risk, creating a no-win situation for everyone involved.