Wildlife Diseases

Wild animals are usually robust and healthy like this whitetail doe. Watch out for those that appear sick or act differently though.

I was only a few feet away when I noticed the chipmunk in my driveway.  They are usually skittish of my approach, but this one didn’t flee for its life. Instead, it sat on all fours, back humped up and eyes closed. I knelt for a closer look and spoke softly to it and it still didn’t move. It definitely looked sick and I wondered if it had gotten in to some chemical in the garage.

Over the next 30 minutes or so, I kept an eye on the little fellow as he maneuvered a few feet in one direction and then another, always slowly and appearing to be in great pain. I finally decided that it likely felt terribly vulnerable in the middle of the gravel so I grabbed a shovel, and careful not to touch it, slid it onto the shovel and moved it next to some rocks for cover. I then pretty much forgot about the chipmunk for a couple of days. When I went to check, it was gone. I wondered if it had recovered or if the red fox I had seen the night before had made a meal of it.

I will never know what affliction ailed the chipmunk, but I was careful because something was definitely wrong. There are a few rules we should all follow when dealing with animals that appear sick or act strangely.

Touching an animal that is obviously sick is foolish in several ways. First, contagions can pass from the sick animal to humans. Second, although the animal appears incapacitated, it may have enough energy to bite you even through gloves, adding injury and a potential for direct contamination. Third, pests such as ticks and fleas quickly abandon animals that are losing body temperature, looking to hitch a ride on the next warm-blooded critter, you. These tiny creatures carry diseases such as Lyme and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, dangerous to humans.

It is often easy to tell if an animal is sick. Hair or feathers may be matted and/or soiled and rough looking or the animal may look emaciated. Fluid discharges from mouth, nose or anus are warning signs and lesions and hair loss are also indicative of ill health. 

Odd behavior is usually a giveaway. With almost all animals except grizzly bears and some park animals habituated to humans, animals usually flee from humans. When they don’t, they are either sick or protecting young, both of which are dangerous situations.

Hunters may also occasionally harvest an animal that appears healthy but may exhibit morbidity, such as internal infection or parasites, upon butchering. I use gloves for field butchering in case I encounter something strange. If you do find that the animal is sick and inedible, you can turn in the carcass (including antlers and hide) and receive a new tag from a Fish and Game office.

Wild animals are tough critters, with constitutions refined and honed by millennia of survival pressures. Most are robust and healthy, but it is smart to stay alert and not take chances.

Help Idaho Wildlife

When we traveled across the state in October 2017, most of the vehicles we saw using the wildlife management areas did not have wildlife plates. Buying wildlife plates is a great way for non-hunters and hunters alike to support wildlife-based recreation like birding.

C'mon folks, let's help Idaho's wildlife by proudly buying and displaying a wildlife license plate on each of our vehicles! 

See below for information on Idaho plates. Most states have wildlife plates so if you live outside Idaho, check with your state's wildlife department or vehicle licensing division for availability of state wildlife plates where you live. 

And tell them that you heard about it from Nature-track.com!

Wildlife License Plates

Idaho Wildlife license plates provide essential funding that benefits the great diversity of native plants and wildlife that are not hunted, fished or trapped—over 10,000 species or 98% of Idaho’s species diversity. Game species that share the same habitats (such as elk, deer, antelope, sage-grouse, salmon, trout) also benefit from these specialty plates.

No state tax dollars are provided for wildlife diversity, conservation education and recreation programs. Neither are any revenues from the sale of hunting or fishing licenses spent on nongame species. Instead, these species depend on direct donations, federal grants, fundraising initiatives—and the Idaho Wildlife license plates.

Both my vehicles have Bluebird Plates. I prefer the bluebird because the nongame program gets 70 percent of the money from bluebird plates, but only 60 percent of the money from elk and trout plates - 10 percent of the money from elk plates supports wildlife disease monitoring and testing programs (to benefit the livestock industry) and 10 percent from cutthroat plates supports non-motorized boat access.

Incidentally, in 2014, the Idaho Legislature denied the Department of Fish and Game the ability to add new plates or even to change the name of the elk and cutthroat plates (very specific) to wildlife and fish plates, a move that would have allowed for changing images occasionally and generating more revenue. It would seem that they believe that we Idahoans don't want a well funded wildlife program.

I think it is time we let the Legislature know that Idahoan support wildlife funding and that we would like to see these generic plates come to fruition.

"WOW. What a phenomenal piece you wrote. You are amazing." Jennifer Jackson

That is embarrassing, but actually a fairly typical response to my nature essays. Since The Best of Nature is created from the very best of 16 years of these nature essays published weekly in the Idaho Falls Post Register (online readership 70,000), it is a fine read. It covers a wide variety of topics including humorous glimpses of nature, philosophy, natural history, and conservation. Readers praise the style, breadth of subject matter and my ability to communicate complex and emotional topics in a relaxed and understandable manner.

Everyone can find something to love in this book. From teenagers to octogenarians, from the coffee shop to the school room, these nature essays are widely read and enjoyed.

Some of the essays here are my personal favorites, others seemed to strike a chord with readers. Most have an important message or lesson that will resonate with you. They are written with a goal to simultaneously entertain and educate about the wonderful workings of nature. Some will make you laugh out loud and others will bring a tear to the eye and warm your heart.

Readers Write:

"You hit a home run with your article on, Big Questions in Nature. It should be required reading for everyone who has lost touch with nature...great job!" Joe Chapman

"We enjoyed your column, Bloom Where Planted. Some of the best writing yet. The Post Register is fortunate to have your weekly columns." Lou Griffin.

To read more and to order a copy, click here or get the Kindle version 


Copies are also available at:

Post Register

Island Park Builders Supply (upstairs)

Barnes and Noble in Idaho Falls

Harriman State Park, Island Park

Museum of Idaho

Valley Books, Jackson Wyoming

Avocet Corner Bookstore, Bear River National Wildlife Refuge, Brigham City, Utah

Craters of the Moon National Monument Bookstore, Arco, Idaho