Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Buford Trout Hatchery Hosts Guided Bird Walk On May 7th

Springtime is a great time to observe many species of colorful birds known as neotropical migrants. Just north of Atlanta, the Georgia Department of Natural Resources’ Wildlife Resources Division’s Buford Trout Hatchery offers a combination of habitat that is attractive to neotropical migrants, making it the perfect location to spot a beautiful summer tanager or orchard oriole.

Local bird expert Rusty Trump, will be leading a bird walk along the hatchery’s Lincoln Sparrow Trail Saturday, May 7th at 8 a.m.

The Lincoln Sparrow Trail is a short, half-mile loop that is easy to walk and features two wildlife-viewing blinds and an observation deck which overlooks a wetland. Bird checklists and a limited number of binoculars are available for participants of the May 7th bird walk.

The walk is intended for individuals and families and is not designed to accommodate large organized groups. The walk is scheduled to begin promptly at 8 a.m. and should last until 9:30 a.m.

Birding participants can expect to see or hear a variety of neotropical species, including indigo buntings, summer tanagers, orchard orioles and numerous warblers. These neotropical migrants now are winging their way north on an annual migration from the Caribbean and Central and South America.

Buford Trout Hatchery is located between Cumming and Buford off Ga. Hwy. 20. From Atlanta, take Ga. Hwy. 400 north to Exit 14. Exit right on Ga. Hwy. 20 and travel east for four miles, turn left on River Club Drive in the Chattahoochee River Club subdivision. Travel approximately ½ mile and turn right at the second stop sign onto Trout Place Road. Trout Place Road dead-ends into Buford Trout Hatchery.

For additional information about the May 7th bird walk, contact the Buford Trout Hatchery at (770) 781-6888.

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Coming Soon to a Beach Near You: Loggerhead Sea Turtle Nesting Season

Loggerhead sea turtles will soon start crawling onto Georgia’s barrier island beaches to nest.

One ambitious leatherback sea turtle already has.

For the second year in a row, a female leatherback reached the beach first, nesting on Ossabaw Island April 19. The early arrival of this endangered species is not unusual, and the loggerhead sea turtles that are more common to the Georgia coast will begin arriving next month, said Georgia Sea Turtle Program Coordinator Mark Dodd of the state’s Department of Natural Resources.

Dodd expects a strong loggerhead nesting season, although not quite the 1,750 nests found last year, the most since daily monitoring of all Georgia barrier islands began in 1989. “My guess is it will be down a little bit but still an above-average nesting year … somewhere in the neighborhood of 1,500 nests.”

From May through September, these massive turtles named for their large heads will lay eggs in the soft sand where beaches meet dunes. Loggerheads are federally listed as threatened, with a proposal pending to classify some populations – including the one found year-round along Georgia’s coast – as endangered.

A group of volunteers, researchers and others called the Georgia Sea Turtle Cooperative manages and protects sea turtle nests from Tybee to Cumberland Island. “What they do is absolutely critical to our overall conservation effort,” said Dodd, a senior wildlife biologist with the DNR’s Nongame Conservation Section.

Data gathered contribute to management decisions and genetic research that is mapping the loggerhead’s family tree along the Southeast. Nests sheltered by being moved above the high-tide line and protected from predators such as feral hogs result in more eggs hatched, which could pay dividends as more sea turtles reach the age of 35 years and older at which the females first nest.

Loggerheads have a long way to go. Although the last five years of nest counts show a slight upturn, the federal definition of recovery is a 2 percent increase per year for 50 years, leading to an annual count of 2,800 nests. Georgia recorded 995 nests in 2009 and 1,646 in 2008. The 2011 season starts within days.
Help conserve loggerheads through buying a bald eagle or ruby-throated hummingbird license plate, or donating directly to the Georgia Nongame Wildlife Conservation Fund. Wildlife plate sales and direct contributions provide vital support for DNR’s Nongame Conservation Section, which receives no state general funds for its mission to conserve wildlife not legally hunted, fished for or trapped, as well as rare plants and natural habitats.

Visit www.georgiawildlife.com for details, or call Nongame Conservation offices in Social Circle (770-761-3035), Forsyth (478-994-1438) or Brunswick (912-264-7218).

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How Fire Ants Build Waterproof Rafts

It’s a naturally occurring phenomenon that has puzzled biologists for decades: Place a single fire ant in water and it will struggle. But a group of fire ants will bind together and float effortlessly for days.

Georgia Tech researchers – Nathan Mlot, mechanical engineering graduate student; Craig Tovey, professor of industrial and systems engineering; and David Hu, professor of mechanical engineering – have solved the mystery of how fire ants self-assemble into a waterproof raft.

Using time-lapse photography and mathematical modeling, the Georgia Tech team found that fire ants act collaboratively rather than individually to form a water-repellant, buoyant raft.

A paper describing the research, titled “Fire ants self-assemble into waterproof rafts to survive floods,” was published April 25 in the early edition of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“It’s a real thrill unraveling what at first looks like chaos,” Tovey said. “To understand what the individual behaviors are and how they combine in order to achieve the function of the group is the central puzzle one encounters when studying social insects.”

An individual ant’s exoskeleton is moderately hydrophobic. But fire ants enhance their water repellency by linking their bodies together, a process similar to the weaving of a waterproof fabric, researchers said.

By freezing the ants, the Georgia Tech team observed that fire ants construct rafts when placed in water by gripping each other with mandibles, claw and adhesive pads at a force 400 times their body weight.

The result is a viscous and elastic material that is almost like a fluid composed of ant “molecules,” researchers said. The ants spread out from a sphere into a pancake-shaped raft that resisted perturbations and submergence techniques.

To determine how this is possible, Tovey and the team tracked the ants’ travel and measured the raft’s dimensions. They found the ants move using a stereotyped sequence of behavior. The ants walk in straight lines, ricocheting off the edges of the raft and walking again until finally adhering to an edge, Tovey said. The ant raft is water repellent because of cooperative behavior.

The ant raft provides cohesion, buoyancy and water repellency to its passengers. Even more remarkable, it is self-assembled quickly, in less than 100 seconds. It is also self-healing, meaning if one ant is removed from the raft, others move in to fill the void.

“Self-assembly and self-healing are hallmarks of living organisms,” Hu said. “The ant raft demonstrates both these abilities, providing another example that an ant colony behaves like a super organism.”

The research could have application to logistics and operations research and material sciences, specifically the construction of man-made flotation devices. It also could impact the field of robotics, the team said.

“With the ants, we have a group of unintelligent units acting on a few behaviors that allow them to build complex structures and accomplish tasks,” Mlot said. “In autonomous robotics, that’s what is desired—to have robots follow a few simple rules for an end result.”

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Monday, April 25, 2011

The Humane Society of the United States Responds to Android Dogfighting Application

The following is a statement from Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of The HSUS regarding the Android application “Dog Wars.”

Law enforcement and animal advocates nationwide are making significant strides against both professional dogfighting and street-level dogfighting, and it is a step backwards to offer a video game for young people that glorifies this cruel and criminal activity. The Humane Society of the United States urges Android to drop “Dog Wars” from its applications and to join the national movement to save dogs from this violent pastime. Because “Dog Wars” actually instructs players on how to condition a dog using methods that are true to organized dogfighting, this game may be a training ground for young people to try the activity in the real world, encouraging cruelty to dogs and leading young people down a dead-end path. For more information on The HSUS’ work against dogfighting, visit http://www.humanesociety.org/issues/dogfighting/

Giant tortoises show rewilding can work

‘Rewilding with taxon substitutes’, the intentional introduction of exotic species to fulfil key functions in ecosystems following the loss of recently extinct species, is highly controversial, partly due to a lack of rigorous scientific studies.

In a paper published today in Current Biology, Christine Griffiths of Bristol’s School of Biological Sciences and colleagues present the first empirical evidence that rewilding can work.

Exotic giant Aldabra tortoises, Aldabrachelys gigantea, were introduced to Ile aux Aigrettes, a 25-hectare island off Mauritius, in 2000 to disperse the slow-growing ebony Diospyros egrettarum (Ebenaceae), which once covered the island, but today is critically endangered following intensive logging for firewood that lasted until the early 1980s.

To highlight the extent to which the ebony forest had been decimated, the researchers surveyed and mapped all ebony trees in an island-wide survey in 2007 and located a total of 3,518 adult trees. However, large tracts of the island remained denuded of ebony, particularly in the northern and eastern coastal areas nearest to the mainland where logging was most intense.

There had been no regeneration in these areas even though logging ceased thirty years ago because, with the extinction of the island’s native giant tortoises, there were no large fruit-eating animals left to disperse the seeds of these critically-endangered trees.

The introduced Aldabra tortoises not only ingested the large fruits and dispersed large numbers of ebony seeds, but the process of passing through a tortoise’s gut also improved seed germination, leading to the widespread, successful establishment of new ebony seedlings in the heavily logged parts of the island.

Christine Griffiths said: “Our results demonstrate that the introduction of these effective seed dispersers is aiding the recovery of this critically endangered tree whose seeds were previously seed-dispersal limited. Reversible rewilding experiments such as ours are necessary to investigate whether extinct interactions can be restored.”

Professor Stephen Harris, co-author of the study, said: “Ecological restoration projects generally involve the plant community, as more often the animal components are extinct. There is, however, increasing evidence that restoration ecologists should be most concerned with the decline of species interactions, rather than species extinctions per se. Species interactions structure ecological communities, and provide essential ecosystem processes and functions such as pollination, seed dispersal and browsing, that are necessary for the self-regulation and persistence of a community.”

Paper

‘Resurrecting extinct interactions with extant substitutes’ by Christine Jane Griffiths, Dennis Marinus Hansen, Carl Gwynfe Jones, Nicolas Zuël and Stephen Harris is published in Current Biology.

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Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Reward Offered in Illegal Alligator Killing in Georgia

The Humane Society of the United States and The Humane Society Wildlife Land Trust are offering a reward of as much as $2,500 for information leading to the identification, arrest and conviction of the person or persons responsible for the illegal killing of an alligator.

The Case: According to published media reports, on Apr. 10, the body of a mutilated alligator was discovered in the Flint River. The alligator’s tail had been cut off.

“The person or persons responsible for mutilating this alligator deserve to be brought to justice and we implore anyone with information to come forward,” said Jessica DuBois, Georgia state director for The HSUS. “The Humane Society of the United States commends the Georgia Department of Natural Resources for their efforts to find those responsible for this serious crime.”

Alligators can be legally hunted in Georgia, but the season was closed at the time the alligator was killed.

Poaching:

Wildlife officials estimate that for every wild animal killed legally — tens of millions of animals per year — another is killed illegally.
Every year, thousands of poachers are arrested nationwide; however, it is estimated that only 1 to 5 percent of poached animals are discovered by law enforcement.
Poachers injure or kill wildlife anytime, anywhere and sometimes do so in particularly cruel ways. Wildlife officials report that poachers often commit other crimes as well.

The HSUS and HSWLT work with state and federal wildlife agencies nationwide to offer rewards of $2,500 for information leading to arrest and conviction of suspected poachers.


The Investigators: Anyone with information about this case is asked to call 1-800-241-4113 or the Georgia DNR Office in Albany at 229-430-4252.

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Landmark UGA study reveals breed-specific causes of death in dogs

Dog owners and veterinarians have long relied on a mix of limited data and anecdotal evidence to assess which breeds are at risk of dying from various conditions, but a new University of Georgia study provides a rare and comprehensive look at causes of death in more than 80 breeds.

The study, published in the current edition of the Journal of Veterinary Internal Medicine, can be used to create breed-specific health maintenance programs and is a starting point for future studies that will explore the genetic underpinnings of disease in dogs.

“If we can anticipate better how things can go wrong for dogs, we can manage their wellness to keep them as healthy as possible,” said study co-author Dr. Kate Creevy, an assistant professor in the UGA College of Veterinary Medicine.

Creevy and her co-authors examined data from the Veterinary Medical Database to determine the cause of death for nearly 75,000 dogs over the 20-year period of 1984 through 2004. They classified the deaths by organ system and disease process and further analyzed the data by breed, age and average body mass. Eighty-two breeds are represented in their study, from the Afghan hound to the Yorkshire terrier.

While some of the findings corroborate smaller, breed-specific studies, the UGA researchers also found plenty of surprises. Toy breeds, such as Chihuahuas and Maltese, are known to have high rates of cardiovascular disease (19 and 21 percent of deaths within the breeds, respectively), for example, but the researchers found that Fox Terriers also have high rates of cardiovascular disease (16 percent of deaths). Golden retrievers and boxers are known to have high rates of cancer (50 and 44 percent of deaths, respectively), but the researchers found that the Bouvier des Flandres actually has a higher death rate from cancer (47 percent) than the boxer.

Creevy noted that the previously unknown high risk of cancer in the Bouvier, a relatively rare breed, highlights the power of their comprehensive approach.

“With rare breeds, an individual veterinarian may not see enough cases to be able to develop the opinion on whether the breed has a high incidence of conditions such as cancer,” Creevy said. “But if you analyze records that have been compiled over 20 years, you can detect patterns that you wouldn’t otherwise notice.”

Study co-author Daniel Promislow, a genetics professor in the UGA Franklin College of Arts and Sciences, said the study may help solve one of the great enigmas of canine health. “Normally, if you compare different species of mammals, big ones live longer than little ones—elephants live longer than mice, and sheep are in the middle, for example—and that pattern holds pretty well across hundreds of different species of mammals,” Promislow said. “Within dogs, the opposite occurs; the little dogs live longer.”

The researchers found that larger breeds are more likely to die of musculoskeletal disease, gastrointestinal disease and, most notably, cancer. Smaller breeds had higher death rates from metabolic diseases, such as diabetes and Cushing’s disease.

Promislow said dogs are an ideal species in which to explore the genetic basis of disease. There’s an unparalleled degree of diversity among breeds—compare Chihuahuas to Great Danes, for example—yet all dogs are of the species Canis lupus familiaris. Within breeds, on the other hand, dogs are genetically very similar.

Scientists first mapped the dog genome in 2003 and have since compiled data on genetic variation at single points on the genome for more than 80 breeds. By combining the genetic data with the data from their study, the UGA team can search for genes that influence the risk of diseases such as cancer.

Promislow pointed out that because the building blocks of the dog genome and the human genome are the same, understanding the genetic basis of disease in dogs can inform human medicine. If specific genes are found to play a significant role in Cushing’s disease in dogs, for example, scientists can assess whether the same process occurs in humans with the disease, with the ultimate goal of creating new strategies for early diagnosis and subsequent treatment.

“Is genetic variation for disease due to a few genes that vary in the population and have a big effect or dozens or hundreds of genes with small effects? That’s a basic biological question that we can address,” Promislow said. “There’s potential to learn a lot about the genetics of disease in general using the dog as a model.”

Promislow approached Creevy with the idea of collaborating after acquiring gigabytes of data that required a veterinarian’s expertise to analyze. Much of the initial data analysis was performed by former veterinary internal medicine resident Jamie Fleming, who is now in private practice in Port Washington, Wis.

Creevy noted that Promislow’s background in evolutionary biology allows the team to explore questions that have implications far beyond veterinary medicine. She also pointed out that their collaboration underscores the potential of interdisciplinary research. “This study is a good example of the unique things that can happen at a research university,” Creevy said.

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Monday, April 11, 2011

Bald Eagle Nesting Going Strong in Georgia, Survey Shows

Chalk up another solid nesting year for bald eagles in Georgia.

Department of Natural Resources aerial surveys in January and March documented 142 occupied nesting territories, 111 successful nests and 175 young fledged. Totals for eaglets and successful nests declined slightly compared to 2010, when the respective counts were 194 and 122. But the number of occupied nests increased from 139 last year.

Each count this year topped 2009, when the statewide search revealed 128 occupied or active territories, 101 successful nests – those in which young are raised to the point they can fly – and 166 eaglets.

Survey leader Jim Ozier said the fluctuations could reflect factors such as harsh weather and sampling error, and “are not outside the range we would expect.” His opinion is the state’s bald eagle population is strong.

“I think it will continue to grow,” said Ozier, a program manager in the DNR’s Nongame Conservation Section.

Thanks to conservation laws, restoration work and a ban on the pesticide DDT, bald eagles have rebounded from near-extinction through much of their range 40 years ago. Nests numbered in the single digits in Georgia when Ozier started searching for them more than two decades ago. Nesting territories steadily increased, and then surged to 96 in 2006 and beyond 100 in recent years.

Ozier and others are concerned about the impact of Avian Vacuolar Myelinopathy, or AVM, a neurological disease deadly to waterbirds, mainly coots and bald eagles. One suspected link is that coots ingest a strain of cyanobacteria or blue-green algae common on submerged aquatic plants – particularly hydrilla – and a toxin in the algae sickens eagles that eat contaminated coots.

Discovered in Arkansas in 1995, AVM has been documented in Georgia at lakes Clarks Hill, Juliette, Varner and West Point, and some small reservoirs near Atlanta. Clarks Hill, also known as J. Strom Thurmond Reservoir, is a hotspot. Eagle nesting territories on the lake have dwindled from eight to one, Ozier said. He saw two adult eagles dead on nests there this year. At one of the nests, another dead adult eagle was found a few days later on the ground below. Apparently both members of this nesting pair were lost at about the same time.

Scientists are probing AVM and what can be done to combat it.

Although concentrated on the coast, bald eagle nests are found across the state, usually near major rivers and lakes where the fish, birds and turtles that eagles eat are abundant. The nests are big – averaging 5 feet wide – but they can be hard to find. Ozier encouraged the public to let his office know of any eagle nests they see, by form (www.georgiawildlife.com/node/1322) or phone (478-994-1438). Each year, these reports lead to the documentation of nests not monitored before.

DNR works with landowners to help protect nests on their property.

Bald eagles are one of more than 600 high-priority nongame animals and plants identified in the Georgia Wildlife Action Plan, a strategy guiding conservation efforts statewide. Georgians can also help conserve eagles and other rare and endangered nongame wildlife by contributing to the Georgia Wildlife Conservation Fund checkoff on their state income tax returns.

The Wildlife Conservation Fund supports conservation of animals from sea turtles to southeastern American kestrels, as well as native plants and natural habitats. DNR’s Nongame Conservation Section also uses donations to attract and match grants, gaining about $1 for every 25 cents spent.

Make a mark for eagles this tax season: Fill in any amount more than $1 on line 26 of the state’s long tax form (Form 500) or line 10 of the short form (Form 500EZ). Visit www.georgiawildlife.com/node/338 for more information. State income tax forms are available online at https://etax.dor.ga.gov/.

The Nongame Conservation Section receives no state appropriations for its mission to conserve nongame animals – those not legally hunted, fished for or trapped – and native plants and habitats. The sales of bald eagle and hummingbird license plates also benefit the agency and the Wildlife Conservation Fund. Details at www.georgiawildlife.com.

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Saturday, April 2, 2011

Georgia Aquarium's AT&T Dolphin Tales Makes Debut Splash

/PRNewswire/ -- Georgia Aquarium is proud to announce the debut of the much-anticipated AT&T Dolphin Tales gallery and show on Saturday, April 2. Dedicated to inspiring memorable connections between humans and dolphins, AT&T Dolphin Tales strives to create a greater understanding of these magnificent animals and to develop a lasting legacy for the conservation of dolphins and other marine mammals.

"The new gallery and show is an important addition and expansion of Georgia Aquarium's focus on the care of marine mammals," said David Kimmel, president and chief operating officer for Georgia Aquarium. "This commitment began with the opening of the Aquarium in 2005 when the beluga and sea otter exhibits were first featured. AT&T Dolphin Tales represents nothing less than the next level of engaging the public to care about these animals."

Serving as a moving tribute to the beauty and grace of dolphins, the 84,000-square-foot AT&T Dolphin Tales exhibit uses entertainment to educate audiences with dynamic performances by a live actor, trainers and charismatic animals and effects utilizing light, water, video, sound and dramatic costuming, all set to the storyline of a professionally orchestrated soundtrack.

The spectacular 25-minute show, created specifically for Georgia Aquarium, is narrated by the show's lead character, the StarSpinner, a mysterious adventurer and storyteller who leads the audience through an interactive journey across the oceans and through the ages. Throughout a mythical journey of good versus evil, aided by the guidance of the dolphin cast and engaging audience interactions, guests will be on the edge of their seats one moment, and soothed by an aquatic ballet the next.

Emmy award-winning producers and directors developed the production in concert with a world-class team of talented individuals, assembled from the worlds of television, film and Broadway. An original musical score was written and composed by renowned composer Tim Williams, and recorded by a 61-piece orchestra at Sony Pictures Studios in Los Angeles as a tribute to the beauty and whimsy of the dolphins.

All Georgia Aquarium guests can get an up-close look at the naturally playful behaviors of the Atlantic bottlenose dolphins through a 25-foot-long acrylic viewing window located in the gallery lobby. Periodic dolphin viewing is included with Georgia Aquarium general admission. Entrance to the AT&T Dolphin Tales gallery is included with Georgia Aquarium general admission. An AT&T Dolphin Tales ticket is required in order to see the live show.

Through AT&T Dolphin Tales and its many other programs, Georgia Aquarium seeks to educate audiences on the importance of embracing aquatic animals, motivating viewers to care about them and inspiring them to make positive environmental choices. AT&T, a sponsor of the Aquarium's Deepo's Undersea 3D Wonder show since 2005, is the new sponsor of the AT&T Dolphin Tales gallery and theater. AT&T recently completed an expansion of its Distributed Antenna System (DAS) inside the Aquarium to include the AT&T Dolphin Tales gallery and theater. A DAS consists of several strategically-placed antennas that distribute AT&T's wireless network coverage throughout the Aquarium, providing for more efficient management of wireless capacity in heavily-trafficked areas.

Tickets to the AT&T Dolphin Tales show are now available at georgiaaquarium.org. Walk-up tickets will be in short supply. To ensure a seat at this spectacular production, guests are requested to book their seats in advance. Ticket packages including admission to the Aquarium and AT&T Dolphin Tales start at the following rates: Adult, $37.45; Child (age 3-12), $25.95; Senior (age 65 and up), $30.45.

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Friday, April 1, 2011

Rescue of "Orphaned" Wildlife Not Necessary

Concern for wildlife, especially young animals, is simply human nature. Most people who come across a deer fawn, a young bird or a newborn rabbit that is alone will initially watch in amazement and then sometimes wonder if the animal is in need of help. The Georgia Department of Natural Resources’ Wildlife Resources Division encourages residents to resist the urge to ‘rescue’ these animals.

"Despite good intentions, young wildlife taken into captivity can lose their natural instincts and ability to survive in the wild,” explains John Bowers, Wildlife Resources Division assistant chief of Game Management. “In most instances, young wildlife that appear to be helpless and alone are only temporarily separated from the adults. This natural behavior is a critical survival mechanism. Adults spend a significant amount of time away from their offspring to minimize predation.”

Additionally, handling such animals and bringing them into the home poses health risks for both people and domestic pets. Despite the fact that they make look healthy, wildlife can transmit life-threatening diseases such as rabies and can carry unhealthy parasites such as roundworms, lice, fleas and ticks. Certain ticks are especially known to transmit diseases such as Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever and Southern Tick Associated Rash Illness to humans.

Individuals who are not trained in wildlife rehabilitation should not attempt to care for wildlife and additionally, Georgia law prohibits the possession of most wildlife without a permit. Residents that encounter a seriously injured animal or an animal that clearly has been orphaned should first try to contact a local licensed wildlife rehabilitator.  A list of rehabilitators is available at www.georgiawildlife.com (select “Find a Wildlife Rehabilitator” from the home page). People also can contact their local Wildlife Resources Division office to obtain a contact number for a licensed wildlife rehabilitator to provide proper care for the animal until it can be released into the wild.

Residents that encounter an animal such as a bat, fox, skunk, raccoon, coyote or bobcat during the daytime that appears to show no fear of humans or dogs, or that seems to behave in a sick or abnormal manner (i.e. weaving, drooling, etc.), should avoid the animal and contact the local county health office and/or a Wildlife Resources Division office for guidance. The animal may be afflicted with rabies, distemper or another disease. Residents should not attempt to feed or handle the sick animal. Pets, livestock and humans should be kept away from the area in which the animal was observed.

The two most important steps people can take to protect themselves and their pets from rabies is to 1) get pets vaccinated and 2) avoid physical contact with wildlife. As another precautionary step, adults should instruct children to NEVER bring wildlife home.

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