Forms & Permits

Photo © Keith Anderson

Wildlife Rehabilitation Permits

Individuals who are interested in rehabilitation of wild animals in South Dakota must meet certain qualifications and have a South Dakota Wildlife Rehabilitator Permit.

The main requirements are:

  • you must pass a written examination to demonstrate your knowledge of this subject
  • you must line up a licensed veterinarian to assist with animal care and evaluation as needed
  • you must be able to provide a facility that matches the needs of the species you propose to provide temporary care for, and
  • you must be willing and able to maintain records to allow your work to be evaluated annually.

GFP has adopted the standards and guidelines established by the National Wildlife Rehabilitators Association available here

Please review the South Dakota Administrative Rules pertaining to Wildlife Rehabilitation here.

If you are interested in becoming a permitted wildlife rehabilitator, contact the GFP representative in your area. These individuals can guide you through the application process:

Central SD
Nathan Baker | 605.223.7709

Northeastern SD
Dan Sternhagen | 605.882.5201

Southeastern SD
Julie Lindstrom | 605.362.2714

Western SD
Trenton Haffley | 605.394.2394

If You Care, Leave It There

Every spring and summer, people find young wild animals that appear to be alone or orphaned. The vast majority of the time, these animals are intentionally left alone as their mother, their main caregiver, is temporarily away finding food for herself and her young. By taking these young animals into captivity, you expose them to diseases and stress. You may also expose yourself, your family and pets to parasites, injuries and diseases such as rabies. These are among the many reasons it is illegal to keep wild animals as pets.

A young wild animal has the best chance of surviving when in the care of its parents, which are very devoted to their young and almost never abandon them. If you see a young animal that is alone, stay away from it and keep children and pets away as well. Its parent will likely return to care for it, though it may be alone for several hours.

If you find a young wild animal that you are certain is orphaned, contact the nearest GFP-Wildlife Division Office, Wildlife Conservation Officer or Wildlife Damage Specialist. Contact information is available in the Hunting Handbook or online.

Do not capture the animal or feed the animal unless you have been given that direction by local wildlife authorities. Limit your contact with the animal so it does not become acclimated to people, which will prevent its future release to the wild.

South Dakota has very few licensed wildlife rehabilitators, making it even more important that wild animals are left where you found them. In addition to the scarcity of trained and permitted rehabilitators, rehabilitated wild animals have low odds of survival. Each situation will be assessed based on whether permitted rehabilitators are available and able to accept the animals and the likelihood that they can be successfully rehabilitated and released.

See above to learn more about becoming a licensed state wildlife rehabilitator.

Here are some common species in South Dakota that are often seen alone. 

White-tailed deer

White-tailed does give birth to fawns from May – July. Each doe typically has one or two fawns, which are nearly scentless to help them avoid predators. Spots help camouflage fawns while they spend much of their time hidden from predators and humans. A doe may leave her fawns near homes and may spend what seems to be a lot of time away from them when not nursing them. By staying away from the fawns, she is protecting them from being detected by predators. It is common to see fawns without their mother.

Leave a fawn alone because the mother is likely nearby. Don’t continue to check on it, because you may actually attract predators to the area and discourage the doe from returning. If someone in your household has brought a deer fawn home, return it to its area of origin as quickly as possible to give the animal a chance of survival by having its mother return to care for the fawn.  Deer fawns cannot be kept as pets. They grow up to be strong and dangerous in captivity. Don’t allow your pets to harass deer fawns. 


Raccoons are common in South Dakota towns and cities where they find food and shelter. A female gives birth to 3-7 young called kits that are weaned in about 7 weeks. Kits stay with their mother through the fall and sometimes later. They are mainly nocturnal, although the mother may forage during the day in spring and summer, leaving kits alone until she returns in the evening. Racoons make dens in a variety of locations including hollow trees, rock crevices, burrows and in human-made structures such as crawl spaces, chimneys and attics. 

Leave a raccoon kit alone even if the kit is not at a den site.  Watch from a distance to see if it returns to shelter or the mother finds it. Even if a kit’s eyes haven’t opened (at about 3 weeks of age), the mother may return to it at night. Contact GFP if a kit is far from any apparent den. 

A raccoon kit can grow to become a dangerous and destructive adult. It’s best to leave raccoons in the wild as they also carry diseases and parasites that can harm people and pets.

To discourage raccoons from denning in your yard, securely close access to chimneys and under patios. Don’t leave food sources outside, such as pet food and garbage. This may help avoid the need to remove a problem raccoon, which could be a mother with young.


These prolific backyard visitors can have several litters of 2-7 young each year. Nests are shallow scrapes in the soil lined with grass and fur. Young are born hairless and with their eyes closed. Eyes open about a week later, and young depend on their mother for about the first two weeks. Mothers commonly leave young alone, returning to the nest to feed them, typically at dawn and dusk. Young leave the mother when they are about three weeks old and still only about 4-5 inches long.

Leave baby rabbits alone because the mother is likely to be nearby. If you find a nest that has been disturbed, rebuild the nest lining while wearing gloves, place the young in the nest and cover them up. The mother is likely to return to the nest, and when she does, she may move them to another spot. Do not continue to visit or check on the nest, because you are likely to attract predators to that site.

Cottontails do not make good pets. Avoid orphaning cottontails by checking your yard for nests before mowing. Place a temporary covering over the nest or mark it until you finish mowing. 

Tree Squirrels

The eastern fox squirrel is South Dakota’s most common tree squirrel. This backyard inhabitant typically has two breeding seasons, one in winter and a second during spring. The female usually has three young born hairless and with closed eyes and ears. Young may leave the nest at about 2 months, although litters may stay together for longer. 

If you see a very young squirrel that has fallen from its nest, leave it alone and keep pets away. The mother will likely return and carry the young back to the nest. 

Do not keep squirrels as pets. They grow up to be active and potentially dangerous and destructive. You can help prevent orphaned tree squirrels by checking for squirrel nests before cutting down trees and by capping vents, chimneys and window wells to prevent animals from being trapped.


Finding a lone bat in a tree, lodged in a rocky crevice or hanging on the side of a brick building may make you want to intervene, but do not. Chances are this bat will be gone in a day or two, especially during spring and fall when bats make seasonal movements.

If you think a bat found inside a building needs to be removed for its safety or that of you, your children or pets, give the bat an opportunity to exit by opening doors and windows. If the bat requires assistance, first put on leather gloves and a face mask. Slowly approach the bat and cover it with a box or other container. Slowly slide a lid or other cover to loosely enclose the bat in the box. Take the bat outside, gently coax it out of the box to a location high enough, on a tree limb for example, so it can drop lower before it takes flight. For more details on how to “Catch and Release a Single Bat” visit Bat Conservation International and scroll down. 

Rabies is an extremely serious disease that affects bats and humans. You can contract rabies by the exchange of body fluids such as saliva or blood through a bite or deep scratch. If you think you have been exposed, contact your county or state health department or animal control immediately.

If you find an injured bat, contact GFP-Wildlife Division. Injured bats require specialized care that most people cannot safely provide.



Heavy rain or strong winds may flood or blow young birds from the nest.  In some cases, other nestlings have pushed them out or pet dogs and cats may disturb the nest.

If the young bird lacks feathers and the nest is safely within reach, return it to its nest as soon as possible. Don’t worry about leaving your scent on the birds. If you can’t reach or find the nest, but you know the mother is nearby, use a small basket filled with some grass and place or attach it to a tree above the ground.

If the baby bird is feathered, it has likely fledged and left the nest on purpose, even before it has mastered the skill of flying. Parent birds typically continue feeding them during this stage – picture those young spotted robins that you’ve seen in your yard, hopping around and begging their parents for food. Leave these birds alone and keep your pets away from them. Do not capture these young birds, try to feed them or take them to a wildlife rehabilitator. 

You can help birds in your area by providing a variety of habitats that offer shelter, food and space. Don’t allow your pets to roam freely, particularly cats, which take a heavy toll on wild birds. If you provide bird feeders or baths, place them near the shelter of trees or shrubs to help birds avoid predators. And pay attention to windows that birds commonly strike during flight and learn how to remedy these dangers

Birds of prey (raptors)

Birds of prey include hawks, eagles, owls, falcons, ospreys and vultures. Even more than most wild animals, these birds need specialized medical care and rehabilitation if they are to be returned to the wild. South Dakota has a very limited number of entities that have the appropriate federal permit and training to possess and care for these birds. 

If you spot an injured raptor, do not try to capture it. These birds have claws and beaks that can inflict severe damage, particularly if you lack experience in handling them. Contact the nearest GFP-Wildlife Division office, Wildlife Conservation Officer, Wildlife Damage Specialist or U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service office to provide directions to the injured bird, details about its condition and your knowledge of potential threats.

Like songbirds, young raptors often leave the nest before they can fly effectively. If you see a nestling on the ground that is mostly feathered, keep your pets away and leave it there as the nestlings can scramble back up into a tree using their talons and beak. Grounded nestlings will be fed and monitored by their parents, and frequent visits will scare the parents away. 

If you must capture the bird because it is in a dangerous situation or you are asked to do so by a state or federal official, please follow the advice below and seek more detailed advice:

  1. Don’t put yourself at risk by trying to capture an injured raptor on a busy road, in water or in other dangerous locations.
  2. Wear safety glasses and gloves. Leather gloves will work for small raptors. Welders’ gloves are better suited for medium-sized raptors. Do not handle large raptors, such as Great Horned or Snowy owls or eagles, unless you have experience.
  3. Approach the bird slowly with a towel or blanket that you hold in front of your face.
  4. Gently cover the bird with the towel or blanket, pin its wings to its body and place it in a plastic dog or cat kennel or sturdy cardboard box with the top closed. The less room the bird has to move around, the less likely it will further injure itself. Avoid using wire cages, which can cause further damage.
  5. Keep the bird in a dark, quiet warm environment away from pets and children until it can be transported or picked up. Do not keep the bird any longer than necessary. Delaying treatment even overnight can make a huge difference in whether the bird can be rehabilitated and released.
  6. Avoid overheating and stressing the bird.  Do not make stops during the transport and avoid loud noises.
  7. As with all suspected orphans, do not pick up young raptors unless you are certain the mother is dead or has abandoned the chick. 
  8. Do not feed any injured or orphaned bird of prey. They will need special nutrient-rich foods and feeding them hamburger or other human foods may harm them. In addition, the animal may need medical care that requires it has an empty stomach.


A common childhood experience is to capture a young turtle in a lake or grab a box turtle from a roadside as it travels to a nesting or hibernation area. As with all wildlife, healthy wild turtles are best left in the wild rather than kept captive in an aquarium or cage. Many of these turtles don’t receive proper care in captivity. Turtles can carry salmonella, and you may also introduce and spread diseases in the wild if you release them later. 

Turtles can recover from many injuries, such as a cracked shell or the loss of toes or an eye, so don’t assume such a turtle needs your help. 

Keep your eyes open for turtles on the road. If you can safely move them out of harm’s way, move a turtle in the direction it was traveling, but do not put yourself or others at risk. Be especially careful when handling snapping turtles, which can inflict serious bites. If you can’t move a snapper with a shovel or board or push it with a heavy stick, handle it by the rear legs and not the tail, keeping a watchful eye on its mouth.

Ornate box turtles live in parts of southern South Dakota. Although potentially long-lived, these turtles may not breed until 7-8 years old, so removing them from the wild can cause population declines. Avoid the temptation to take one of these unique animals into captivity.

Final Thoughts

  • Do not feed injured or orphaned wildlife. 
  • If instructed to transport an injured or orphaned animal, use a box or closed container and minimize noise and disturbance.
  • Even temporarily removing an animal from the wild can affect its potential for release because of poor nutrition, stress of captivity, disease exposure and habituation to humans.
  • Aside from safe and sanitary feeding of wild birds at feeders, avoid feeding wildlife, which can increase their exposure to disease and cause them to lose their fear of humans.
  • Enjoy wild animals in their natural setting and understand that not all injured animals can or should be rehabilitated. 
  • If you care, leave it there.