AP Photo/Phil Sandlin
Tuesday, Aug. 1, 2017 | 2 a.m.
Las Vegas elementary school teacher Claude Cain was visiting his father’s farm in New Mexico when he found a sickly baby bird baking on the hot concrete in the blistering sun.
Cain began nursing it back to health by feeding it a mixture of chick-starter feed and water.
“I had no idea what type of bird it was because there are chickens and peacocks and all kinds of birds on my father’s farm,” he said. “When I came back to Las Vegas, I put it in a box and brought it with me because my dad isn’t in any condition to be nursing the bird back to health.”
Little did he know he was committing a misdemeanor.
Cain discovered the bird was an American kestrel, which is considered the most common falcon in North America, according to the University of Michigan. With a 20-24-inch wingspan, kestrel falcons are the smallest raptors on the continent and eat small animals such as grasshoppers, dragonflies, lizards, mice and small birds.
When he contacted the Nevada Department of Wildlife seeking guidance, he said department officials told him he should have let the bird die. They said he should have never brought it across state lines.
He immediately took the bird to the North Las Vegas Animal Control Division, which he said is the only shelter in the area that takes falcons. It wasn't clear how the bird is doing now.
A month later, to Cain’s dismay, a wildlife department official showed up at his door to inform him he’d be charged with a misdemeanor and fined $200.
“Wildlife isn’t something that you just go pick up,” said Doug Nielsen, spokesman for the department. “People really need to be cautious and ask questions before they act.”
Cain said he was told he committed a felony for importing the bird into Nevada without a permit, but was issued a misdemeanor because he was truthful with the department, and because of the circumstances surrounding his case. His court case is scheduled for Sept. 11.
“I figured they would offer me the chance to do community service, help out at a shelter or something, but no, they went straight to a fine,” Cain said.
Nielsen said that while Cain’s case is unfortunate, a person isn’t exempt from the law just because they weren’t aware of it. He said that when it comes to illegal trade, animal trafficking is second only to drug trafficking worldwide. Illegal wildlife trade is worth $19 billion a year, according to a 2012 report by the World Wildlife Foundation.
“The average person needs to realize that if they’re out and about and they find a wild critter, the first thing they need to do is realize they’re putting a human element into nature by interacting with it,” Nielsen said. “Most of the time, it’s best to just leave them how they are.”