Leave the lizards alone.

Don't bother baby birds.

Teach your kids not to "kidnap" wildlife from the wild or "rescue" newborn critters that appear to be orphaned or abandoned.

That's the advice from wildlife officials, who say spring is a time when people - often with the best of intentions - handle wild animals or bring them home.

"When you or your children pick up wildlife, there's a potential for lots of bad things to happen," said Tim Snow, a non-game specialist with the Arizona Game and Fish Department.

"It's more likely to happen now when people are out and about because of the warmer weather," Snow said. "This is a time when breeding produces babies and young animals. It's a peak season for breeding birds, and temperatures are warm enough that reptiles are coming out."

HERE'S THE PROBLEM

Snow and other wildlife officers warned that picking up animals - from baby bobcats and bunnies to birds, lizards and desert tortoises - could result in injury or death to the animals.

Not to mention bites or other problems for people.

"It usually creates a lose-lose situation," Snow said.

Some of the things that can happen:

• "Anytime you handle wildlife, it can create stress in an animal," Snow said. "For example, if you pick up a desert tortoise, they tend to urinate (as a result of stress). Urinating can cause problems for a desert animal that needs to retain water, especially in a period of drought."

• People sometimes catch a wild animal and take it home. Later, they decide they can no longer care for the animal and release it. "But that animal is habituated to you and where you've been holding it," Snow said. "If you release it, the animal doesn't know the area" and may find that the area is now occupied by others of its species.

• Picking up snakes, lizards, frogs, ground squirrels or rabbits can harm the animal and possibly result in the transfer of venom or disease to people.

• Messing with mammals - such as bobcats, coyotes or javelinas - can be downright dangerous. "Animals bite," Snow said. "That's their defense against people. With mammals, there's a real potential for the transfer of rabies or fleas."

• "Rescuing" animals, such as baby birds, that appear to be orphaned often does much more harm than good. "In many cases, the parents are alive and will come back" if people don't intervene, Snow said. "Even with birds that fall out of nests, the parents will often find them and feed them on the ground."

• You could face fines for possessing wildlife without a permit. It's illegal to merely pick up rattlesnakes, desert tortoises and other species - even if you don't plan to take them home.

NUTSHELL ADVICE

Snow and Mark Hart of the Game and Fish Department offered these tips:

• Keep wildlife wild - meaning don't try to touch, feed or own them as you would do with pets.

• Don't feed wildlife or leave pet food where wild animals can get to it. "It's not healthful for the animals because it's not their typical fare," Hart said. "And it tends to attract predators."

• Don't assume that baby animals are orphaned because you don't see their parents nearby. When animals are orphaned or injured, licensed wildlife rehabilitators are best suited to care for them.

• Observe animals from a safe distance. "We're not advocating that people ignore wildlife," Snow said. "Wildlife is great. Go out and look, but keep it at that."

Contact reporter Doug Kreutz at 573-4192 or dkreutz@azstarnet.com