PELHAM, Ala. (AP) — Wildlife lovers are protesting a new state rule in Alabama they say is a death sentence for helpless baby raccoons, skunks and other wild animals there.
The Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources said Thursday that it will no longer issue permits for the rehabilitation of certain orphaned or injured raccoons, skunks, opossums, foxes, coyotes, feral pigs or bats.
Anyone who finds an orphaned or hurt animal should leave it in the wild, the agency said, and humane organizations should euthanize any of the animals they receive.
"Basically there is no biological reason to rehabilitate these animals," said biologist Ray Metzler, assistant chief of wildlife for the agency.
Removing orphaned or injured animals from the wild and nursing them interrupts the food chain and could help spread diseases such as rabies, Metzler said.
Animals like baby raccoons are cute, and people like saving them. But orphaned animals often become food for larger predators in the wild and removing them from the woods can have a ripple effect on other species, Metzler added.
"Animals die every day. Every animal has to eat, and every animal has its place in the food chain," he said. "This may be a cruel way to put it, but it's survival of fittest. It really is."
The decision has sparked outrage among wildlife workers like John Russ, who takes in 30 or so of the affected species at the Shamballa Wildlife Rescue site he runs in northeast Alabama.
State rule or not, Russ said he will neither turn away animals to die nor euthanize orphans brought to his shelter in Scottsboro.
"It's immoral. How could I sleep if I did?" he said.
Countless animals die after being hit by vehicles and in other accidents every year. Some leave behind their young. Alabama doesn't keep statistics on how many wild animals are rescued annually so it's impossible to say how many might be affected by the rule.
State law includes possible fines for illegal possession of wild animals in some cases.
Kim Robinson of Huntsville, a volunteer with North Alabama Wildlife Rehabilitators, said she is leaving the organization rather than abide by a rule she calls "irresponsible and reckless."
She said she expects few people would be willing to leave an orphaned animal to die in the wild or turn it over to be euthanized. Furthermore, she said, people will try to raise wild animals on their own rather than turning them over to trained rehabilitators, creating a greater risk of disease for both humans and domestic animals like dogs and cats.
"People are not going to kill these cute little animals after they see their mamas killed on the street or something," she said.
Follow AP writer Jay Reeves on Twitter at —http://twitter.com/Jay_Reeves