Release of Trapped Wildlife

We care deeply about wildlife, and as wildlife control professionals, we are often asked about the laws and regulations related to the release of animals, far away from where they were caught,  as well as the legalities of trapping nuisance, non-game mammals.

Homeowners, please note:  It is illegal to set or maintain traps that do not bear a number or other identifying mark registered with the Department of Fish and Wildlife. This would include a property owner who wishes to set a trap for a wild animal in his/her backyard – before doing so, they must receive an identifying number and affix it to the trap.

Release of Trapped Wildlife

If you see someone illegally releasing trapped wildlife, get as much identifying information as possible, and call the California Department of Fish and Wildlife’s CalTip Hotline immediately at: 1-888-334-CalTIP   (888-334-2258)

While taking a raccoon, opossum, squirrel, coyote, or skunk “to the forest” or another non-populated area sounds not only humane, but kind, exactly the opposite is true.

In California, it is illegal to release a trapped animal to anywhere-except in the area in which it was caught.  While some may view these laws as inhumane, there are important-and specific reasons for these laws.

Biological studies show that the release of wildlife away from a mammal’s “home range” is a death sentence.  An animal in its home range knows where to find the three necessities of sustaining life: food, water, and shelter.  When released to a new area, they do not know where to find what they need to survive, and more often than not, suffer a slow, cruel death by starvation.  They may also encounter other animals of the same species with territorial instincts, resulting in fights which cause severe injuries, or even death.   The “new” animal is often viewed as an intruder, and as a threat.  By trapping animals, removing or sealing off the sources in which they found a nice home and releasing them on site,  most will wander off to find a new home.  In the Victor Valley region, we are not far from native habitat, and wildlife can usually safely relocate to nearby areas.

Trapped animals may have youngsters nearby.  By relocating a female animal elsewhere that has a litter safely tucked away, the babies are sentenced to a cruel death by starvation, exposure, or predators.   A seasoned wildlife control professional understands the biology, breeding patterns, and visible signs of wildlife that may have a litter.  Many animals found inhabiting human areas are females, who are looking for safe places to rear their young.  Using methods to help an animal want to remove her young to a new area can sometimes be accomplished without trapping.  In the event that trapping is necessary, we formulate a plan that best addresses the humane treatment of both female and her litter.

It is always possible that a trapped and subsequently released animal is a disease carrier.  Wild animals often do not show outward signs of illness until they are very sick, or are dying.  Others are carrying parasites that spread serious diseases. When released to the wild, they may infect many other animals in an area that was previously disease free.

Finally, releasing wildlife also risks the transmission of serious diseases and parasites to people and pets who live near the release area.  Many of these diseases are are transmissible to livestock, pets, and humans.  Examples most people have heard about are plague and Lyme disease, but there are many others.

 In the event of a disease outbreak, it is critical that the origin of the original disease is located. Public health officials regularly conduct surveillance, especially on rodents such as California ground squirrels.   Diseases are detected when dead or dying animals are found, wildlife management officials and wildlife control professionals notice irregular animal behavior, or regular surveillance testing by state or county officials reveals the presence of diseases in wildlife (or infected insects.)

If a sick animal, or one carrying fleas (or other parasites)  infected with plague, for example, has been released from its home range, there is no way to determine the initial location of an outbreak.

The buying or selling of California native species of wildlife is also illegal, except under very specific circumstances.  Please use the CalTip number at the top of the page to report violations. 

Together, Californians can help to protect our diverse wildlife species.

Please visit the Wildlife Diseases and Public Health Page for more information about diseases that affect wildlife, and often, humans.