DENVER (KDVR) — Denver Animal Protection is asking Coloradans to resist the urge to pet wild baby animals this spring in order to help preserve wildlife.

Wild animals account for over 90% of reported rabies cases in the country. The disease, spread primarily through bite wounds, has a 99.9% mortality rate according to Denver Animal Protection. They said that’s why they take exposure so seriously and ask people to “keep wildlife wild and leave wildlife alone.”

Wild animals can carry diseases that are harmful to humans. But Courtney Ronner, public information officer for the Denver Department of Public Health and Environment, said we may also have bacteria on our hands that can be dangerous to the creature’s health.

“Don’t touch them, don’t pick them up, don’t bring them into your homes because it’s not only the bite scenario, it’s also that touching wild animals gets them really stressed out and just causes undue harm to them,” Ronner said.

On top of those risks, Ronner said that some wild animals will be rejected by their mothers if they are touched by a human.

Animals are euthanized to test for rabies

Not only does handling wildlife pose a health threat to both animals and humans, but Denver Animal Protection said any animal in contact with a person or a pet must be euthanized and tested for rabies.

In order to diagnose rabies, the virus must be present in a test that requires brain tissue samples from at least two locations of the brain, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Of the approximately 120,000 animals tested for rabies in the country each year, only about 6% of those are found to be rabid.

Animal protection officers have responded to hundreds of calls involving wildlife so far this year. They said it’s not uncommon for people to encounter them in their daily lives, as Denver has a lot of urban wildlife: skunks, rabbits, squirrels, foxes, raccoons and more.

“The most recent ones are people bringing animals into their home because they thought they were cute or they saw them out in the wild and wanted to pet them,” Ronner said. “Wild animals are super cute, nobody is denying that.”

That’s why Ronner said it’s important for people to know that it is normal for baby wild animals to be left alone while the mother looks for food. If they are alone they are usually not orphaned. She said the best thing people can do is keep a distance from wildlife and not touch them, as it can do more harm than good.

What to do if you contact wildlife

Those who have handled wild animals must visit a doctor and might need a post-exposure rabies vaccination, according to Denver Animal Protection. As for pets, they must be quarantined for up to 45 days.

If you see sick or injured wildlife, Denver Animal Protection asks that you leave the animal alone and contact them at 720-913-2080 or the Denver Police Department non-emergency line at 720-913-2000.

They also recommend making sure your pet is up to date with vaccinations in case they are exposed to rabies.