Wildlife FAQ

Over the years, Ijams has fielded many calls about encountering wild animals. This FAQ addresses common question; specific details will vary depending on your situation.

1. I have found an injured animal or one that is acting strangely. What should I do?

Wild animals are capable of inflicting serious injuries, especially when they are hurt or cornered. Wild animals may transmit diseases or parasites and all mammals potentially have rabies. The raccoon strain of rabies is widespread throughout East Tennessee and the region is a federally mandated testing zone. All bats, skunks, raccoons, foxes and coyotes come in contact with humans or that are trapped for any reason must be euthanized and tested.

Because of health and safety reasons, Ijams Nature Center does not recommend handling wild animals. Call the following agencies for assistance.

Sightings of Injured Birds of Prey (owls, eagles, hawks, falcons):
Before you do anything, you can call Smoky Mountain Raptor Center at 865-680-9623. One of their professionals will be able to evaluate the situation and advise of the best course of action to be taken.

Sightings of injured wildlife in an urban area or in your yard:
Knoxville City Animal Control – (865) 215-6658 or
Knox County Animal Control – (865) 215-2444 (actually the Knox County Sheriff’s Office Non-Emergency number. Staffed 24 hours/day.)

If an animal is in your possession, call Animal Control to arrange transportation to the University of Tennessee Veterinary Teaching Hospital. Do not let anyone handle the animal, especially keep children and pets away from the animal. If it is a very small animal and you already have it in a box, call the Veterinary Teaching Hospital for advice at (865) 974-8387. They will accept some wild animals into their wildlife care program, however you must call first. If you have had contact with a bat, raccoon, skunk, coyote or fox, call the Knox County Health Department and Animal Control.

2. I found an orphan baby animal. What should I do?

Due to health and safety concerns, Ijams Nature Center does not recommend handling wild animals. If you find a baby wild animal, it is best to leave it alone. Many mammals such as deer and rabbits leave their young unattended for extensive periods of time. Only State Certified Wildlife Rehabilitators are legally allowed to possess native wildlife species including mammals, birds, amphibians and reptiles. Improper care of wild animals by well-meaning, untrained individuals yields either imprinted wild animals (animals that cannot be released back into the wild) or animals that have nutritional issues resulting in life-long health issues. Inexperienced caregivers also risk serious health problems due to disease and parasite transmission from wild animals.

Songbird Babies:

Nest Has Fallen: Place the nest in a wicker basket or a small plastic strawberry container (make sure there are drainage holes) and tie it to the nearest tree trunk or branch. Using gloves (as not to leave your scent to attract predators) place the young in the container. Keep children and pets away and observe for two hours for the return of the parent. If you see no activity, you might want to try to call a State Certified Wildlife Rehabilitators. A current list of licensed rehabilitators can be found on the TWRA website.

Fledgling – feathered but can not fly: It takes two to three days for most baby birds to learn to fly once they leave the nest. Keep children and pets away. Do not “run down” and catch the baby. If it is chirping, it is communicating with the parent. If it is in danger, for example next to a road, move it with gloved hands to a low branch or a bush. Observe that it is able to jump and/or perch. Leave it alone.

Rare, but truly an orphan: If your dog brings a baby home or your cat kills both parents, call a licensed Certified Wildlife Rehabilitators. Do not feed the baby. Do not give milk or water.

Baby Mammals:

Most “babies” that are seen are probably on their own and have already left their parents. Baby rabbits are on their own by the time they are 3.5 inches in length. Squirrels that have a body length of 5 to 6 inches, and opossums that have a body length of 7 inches are ready to be on their own. If you encounter smaller babies or babies of other mammal species in your yard and you are sure the parent is dead, call Animal Control in the City at (865) 215-7457 or in the County at (865) 215-2444.

Baby Turtles: leave alone.

3. I have an animal in my attic, crawl space, basement, etc. What should I do?

If you have a raccoon in your kitchen or some similar emergency situation, call your local animal control (City of Knoxville 865- 215-7457 or Knox County 865-215-2444). However, Animal Control will not remove an animal living in your attic or crawl space; Ijams recommends you hire a wildlife management service such as Varmint Busters (865-675-5677). Not only will they trap and relocate wildlife, they will help you formulate a plan to prevent re-entry of wildlife into your home.

4. I found an animal. Can I keep it?

No. Please leave it where you found it. It is against state law to remove any animal (mammal, bird, fish, amphibian or reptile) from its native habitat. If you enjoy seeing wildlife on your property on a regular basis, there are many simple things you can do to make your property wildlife friendly. Ijams provides a number of educational programs as part of the Living Clean & Green series that specifically address this topic.

5. I purchased a turtle and I don’t want it anymore. What should I do?

Although it is now legal to own a turtle as a pet in Tennessee, many turtle owners become disenchanted when they learn that there new pet can live to be over 30 years old! If you are not prepared to care for the turtle for that length of time, please consider an alternative type of pet. Once the turtle is in your possession, you are in a sort of turtle Twilight Zone. It is illegal to release the turtle into the wild, yet there are rarely facilities that can take them in because zoos and nature centers are typically at capacity. For further information, call TWRA at 1-800-332-0900. Also, please encourage friends and colleagues to do a quick, 5-minute internet search before purchasing a turtle from the beach!

6. I found eggs buried in my garden or compost bin. What should I do?

If at all possible leave them alone; they are likely reptile eggs. In your garden, especially if the soil is slightly sandy, they are most likely turtle eggs. Unless you live near water, they are probably box turtle eggs. One of the box turtle’s favorite foods includes insect garden pests.

Eggs found in your compost bin are most likely non-venomous snake eggs. All the native venomous snakes in East Tennessee bear live young and do not lay eggs. Black racers, black rat snakes and corn snakes will lay their eggs in compost. If you are a gardener, these are exactly the snakes you want to have around. Their favorite foods are mice, rats, chipmunks, baby squirrels, and rabbits. Snakes are nature’s best control of these animals. Such eggs typically hatch in August or by the second week of September at the latest.

7. I’ve been bitten, scratched, or injured by a wild animal. What should I do?

Clean the injury well with soap and warm water, administer first aid and contact your personal physician for further advice. If applicable, tell your physician that you think you may have been bitten by a spider. If the injury was caused by a mammal, contact your local health department (Knox County at 865-215-5000) and seek advice on how to proceed. If you have the mammal in your care, or you have a good idea where it is located, contact Animal Control (City of Knoxville call 865- 215-2457 or Knox County call 865-215-2444) to have it picked up and tested for rabies.

8. I have accidentally killed or found a dead wild animal. What should I do?

It is best to let nature’s scavengers and decomposers do their jobs. If it is a small body and you need to, you can bury it but use caution – wear gloves and use a shovel to handle the animal. If you have hit a large animal with your car, there are county road crews who will pick it up. With other animals you need to contact TWRA at 1-800-332-0900 for specific information. Please note: it is illegal to keep any bird parts including feathers.

If the animal is wearing a band, tag, or tattoo, please call TWRA at 1-800-332-0900 and give them the number, where you found the animal, and if known, where, when and how it died. Bird bands can be removed from the bird and mailed to Bird Banding Laboratory, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Laurel, MD 20708 along with where and when they were found.

9. I know Ijams has animals at the Visitor Center, can’t I just bring this injured/orphaned animal to you?

Unfortunately, no. Although Ijams is licensed to care for non-releasable education animals, our permits only allow us to care for healthy animals. We are not permitted to take in injured or orphaned animals that may be able to be released back into the wild. Please follow the steps above if you are currently in possession of an animal that you believe is injured or orphaned.