RESCUE NOT REQUIRED! | Environment
Throughout much of Alabama, we have arrived at what I call: "The Most Wonderful Time of the Year:" White-tailed Deer are birthing their fawns. Unfortunately for many of these youngsters, they are often picked up by well-meaning folks who erroneously determine that the fawn has been abandoned. Almost 100% of the time, this is simply NOT the case and the young deer should almost invariably be left alone. A bit of background information about the public's fascination with this species and a dose of the deer's natural history information will go a long way towards keeping many of these deer where they belong: in the woods with their unseen mothers.
In 1926, an Austrian wrote a book titled: Bambi: A Life in the Woods under the pen name Felix Salten. This book inspired Walt Disney's movie Bambi which premiered in 1942. The book conveyed the author's love of nature and the animated film is still recognized as a masterpiece almost 70 years later. Generations of us have grown up with this popular movie and may not realize the profound effect that its release immediately had on the culture of American sportsmen and continues to have on the attitudes of Americans towards wildlife. The movie depicts "hunters" as ruthless poachers and also tugs at our heart strings by emphasizing loving bonds that do not actually exist in reality. Examples: it is not legal to hunt deer in the spring and male deer do not participate in their offspring's life. Research suggests that the release of the movie Bambi directly impacted sales of hunting licenses and sporting goods in the following years. In addition, legislation suggesting increased antler-less deer harvest was more frequently rejected after the public fell in love with this film. Perhaps the reason why this feel-good movie could not stay in the realm of fantasy in American minds is due to its spectacular artwork and outstanding musical score. If you're interested in reading more about the impact of this movie on our culture, I suggest you start at: http://www.history.vt.edu/Barrow/Hist2104/readings/bambi.html . A childhood fascination with Bambi contributed to my decision to study White-tailed Deer population management in college. It remains one of my favorite films. Another way to see the lasting influence of Disney's Bambi is to consider the high volume of "abandoned deer" calls that myself and other state-licensed Wildlife Rehabilitators receive each summer. Those fawns are rarely actually in need of "rescue," and are almost always named "Bambi" by the people that find them.
For at least the first two weeks of its life, the White-tailed Deer fawn is left alone by the doe for hours at a time - often for the whole day. This is the fawn's "seclusion phase," and the time period when it is most likely to be discovered by someone hiking woodland trails or cutting their pasture. During these early weeks of life, the deer devotes its energy to growing and developing - it is not yet following its mother. The doe feeds, forages and rests away from her fawn(s) and returns a few times in each 24-hour period to nurse her young. The fawn rests while its spotted coat makes it disappear into the sun-dappled forest floor. While it is still too young to outrun a predator, the fawn stays hidden. This does NOT translate into being "abandoned." You do not see the mother because it is only reasonable that a healthy, adult doe would run away when spooked by a human. Conversely, she may be off tending to her business and never even know that her fawn was "discovered." She'll be back! The following is intended to answer some frequently asked questions I field from concerned people who find "orphaned" deer.
- It is NORMAL to find a fawn that is alone. Remember that fawns are left for long periods of time and that their mothers are probably nearby. If the fawn was truly "orphaned," it would probably already have starved to death. If you find it hiding, then its fine.
- The normal vocalizations of fawns are bleats that sound "sad." These cries do not necessarily indicate that they are in distress.
- Don't worry about the doe "smelling you" when she returns to the area where her fawn is hiding. She can smell you all the time anyway.
- Avoid disturbing or touching the fawn as this may stimulate it to follow you. If a fawn follows you or shows up in your yard, this also does NOT mean it is abandoned. Human toddlers are notorious for being too friendly to strangers. Fawns sometimes are too. If this happens, move the fawn to a secluded brushy area within about 50 yards. Use the palm of your hand to push down between the fawn's shoulder blades to force it to lay down. Be noisy with your feet so the fawn will slip into its camouflage state and LEAVE. Do this also if you have already moved the fawn - put it back.
- Do NOT continually check on a fawn to see if its mother has returned. The more you disturb the area, the more she'll stay spooked away. Does will return to their fawns if they are healthy and the fawn is healthy. Stop checking!
- Your inability to control your dogs is NOT a legal or reasonable cause to remove a fawn from the wild.
- Be aware that a high mortality rate is NATURAL for White-tailed Deer fawns. Even if you are 100% sure that the fawn's mother is dead, that does not mean that you should rescue the fawn. Bobcats, coyotes and Great Horned Owls are all important predators that rely on opportunities like this to survive. If you don't like the fact that this is the way the world works, take it up with God or The Universe or whatever you believe in - because that's simply the way it is. Improperly and illegally raising a White-tailed deer fawn will not change these facts and more often leads to prolonged suffering as the deer languishes in inexperienced hands.
- Remember that possession of deer without a permit is illegal in the United States. The Alabama Department of Conservation & Natural Resources enforces this and other wildlife laws with penalties and fines. If you choose to raise a found fawn, you are breaking the law and possibly dooming the deer to euthanasia if it is tamed. Tame deer sometimes pose a serious danger to humans when they reach sexual maturity and have killed their captors.
- If you find a fawn that you feel does not meet the "leave it alone" criteria, leave it alone anyway and call The Alabama Department of Conservation or a licensed Wildlife Rehabiltator for instruction. You can contact me, Marianne Hudson, at 256-496-2710.
If you are fortunate enough to spot a fawn hiding in the woods this summer, you will be amazed at the way its form materializes from the leaf litter around it. Suddenly, you will see its eyes, its delicate hooves, and its soft breathing. The fawn's body will emerge from its hiding place and into your visual awareness in an amazing way. I encourage you to pause and look at the fawn: absorb its gentle presence and take that with you in your memory. Look for the fawns in the coming months as they gambol in the fields and frisk at their mothers' sides. Remember that they don't need you, and sleep well tonight in the knowledge that the does are feeding their young, the predators are feeding theirs, and all is right with the world.
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