GRAY – As animals go, there are few things more adorable than a baby raccoon, with its roly-poly belly, bright eyes and ringed bushy tail.

But a decade after he was someone’s pet, an adult raccoon sits inside a hollow log at the Maine Wildlife Park in Gray and watches visitors walk by. Head down, he looks a little forlorn. Or maybe bored.

After being raised as a pet – “Sitting on a couch, eating potato chips, watching TV,” said natural sciences educator, Lisa Kane – the raccoon is too tame for the wild. Yet he’s too wild to be a true house pet.

From his sparse enclosure, he trills softly at passing children.

“He’s saying, ‘I’d rather be out being a raccoon somewhere. I really would,'” Kane said.

The wildlife park is home to more than 100 animals and 30 different species, many of them injured or orphaned. But some, like the raccoon, were illegal pets. And others, like some of the park’s moose calves and weeks-old fawns, were found in the wild and “rescued” by well-meaning – but misguided – people.

The park’s motto: If you care, leave them there.

“They literally have been kidnapped,” Kane said.

Overseen by the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, the park has birds, mammals and reptiles. Almost every species is native to the region, though not every animal came from Maine.

Down the path from the raccoon, a pair of Canadian lynx nap in their enclosures, stretched out in the shade. They were confiscated in Connecticut, where they were living as pets. They were 6- to 8-months-old when they were seized, thin and in rough shape.

Although they have a safe home at the park, Kane said the lynx would have been better off if they hadn’t been taken from the woods in the first place.

The park returns animals to the wild when it can. With the help of a wildlife rehabilitator, all of the fawns and moose calves will go back to the wild next spring.

Some of the babies were found roaming near humans, bleating for help. Kane believes they were truly orphaned or abandoned. Others were found by well-meaning people who thought the animals needed help. In one case, the fawn tried to run away from its “rescuer.”

It’s hard not to feel protective of baby animals – particularly fawns, with their soft, spotted coat and big eyes.

“That’s just cuteness. You just can’t stand it,” Kane said.

But the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife’s guidelines are simple: If you see an uninjured baby animal, leave it alone. The mother is probably off searching for food.

And if the baby runs away from you? Let it.

However, if the animal’s seen wandering the area for more than a day – especially if it’s bleating, crying or making noise – it may need help. Kane advises people to call a wildlife biologist, a wildlife rehabilitator or the state police if they think an animal is injured or orphaned.

The park is happy to help, she said. It just doesn’t want permanent residents that don’t need to be.

“They’re all supposed to be wild animals,” Kane said. “They’re supposed to be doing what they do in the wild.”


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