RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — State wildlife officials say if you see a wild Easter Bunny, let him keep hopping — and don’t keep him as a pet.

The North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission is sending a message to people who might come across young rabbits, fawns and birds in their yards this spring: Don’t try to make them pets, because interfering in a wild animal’s natural growing-up process could put its health in danger.

“Wild parents can’t hire a babysitter, so most young animals spend a lot of time on their own well before they can fend for themselves,” said Falyn Owens, an extension biologist at the North Carolina Wildlife Commission.

“When the mother returns, sometimes many hours later, she expects to find her young where she left them,” she added.

It’s natural to want to help and to think they’re abandoned. But in most cases, the animals’ parents are searching for food nearby.

Owens says the best thing to do is to leave it alone — or put it back — and call a wildlife rehabilitator for advice.

Leaving those animals alone isn’t just responsible — it’s the law.

“Taking most wild animals out of the wild and into your possession is illegal,” Owens said. “The chances that a young wild animal will survive in human care are slim at best. Even those that live long enough to be released won’t have developed the skills to survive on their own.”

She says feeding young wildlife can lead to irreversible harm — and can even kill the animal.

“When in doubt, contact a professional before you do anything,” she said.“Each spring, wildlife rehabilitators take in a lot of young that are malnourished, sick, or injured from well-meaning people trying to provide care.”

She says people contact the agency every spring concerned about the nest of bunnies they’ve found abandoned. Owens says the mother won’t return until “well after you’ve left the area.”

Owens also says to leave alone any fawns that are calm and appear uninjured and check on them a day later. If they are still there then, and appear to have health problems, contact a licensed fawn rehabilitator for advice.