Beware of Bambi
LIBERTY, May 20, 2015 - Colorful road-side ditches and afternoon thunderstorms are sure signs that spring has just about come and gone. With the dog days of summer fast approaching, it is also the time of year when many of our East Texas resident wildlife species, notably the white-tailed deer, begin to give birth to their young. A concurrent rise in people’s outdoor activities results in a proportional increase in the volume of reports of newly born white-tailed deer fawns. Texas Parks and Wildlife personnel receive several phone calls from concerned citizens throughout the county who had “the best of intentions” when they come across an “abandoned” fawn and picked it up thinking it was sure to perish without human intervention. Usually, the calls have come too late after the fawn has not had the proper feedings and is close to dying, or is unable to be put back where it was originally found.
White-tailed deer breed in October and November, and then approximately 200 days later, the offspring will be born. The fawns are born with cryptic-pattern white spots and are virtually odorless. These two features enable the fawn to survive the first few weeks of its life. Its natural defense is being able to lie completely motionless for hours. The doe, whose odor and size would naturally attract predators, purposefully leaves her fawn(s) unattended for hours at a time while she finds food for herself, and in an attempt to keep from attracting predators to her otherwise defenseless offspring. It is during this “away-time” that most people, innocently enough, happen across a fawn in a field or in the woods. It is when well-meaning folks mistakenly assume the deer has been abandoned and pick it up, that the natural method of parental care for the fawn is irreparably interrupted. If left alone, the fawn would surely have been reunited with its mother.
Unfortunately, the damage can rarely, if ever, be undone.
By the time we get the phone call about what to do with a “rescued” fawn, it is generally too late to simply place the fawn back where it was found. This time period is limited to a day or so, at most. Thus begins the process of trying to find a licensed wildlife rehabilitator. This has proven to be considerably difficult, as there has been a significant decline over the last several years in the number of licensed wildlife rehabilitators interested in spending their own money and time caring for injured and/or truly orphaned wildlife. Because it is illegal to pick up a fawn, much less keep one, a licensed wildlife rehabilitator must be contacted to take the now orphaned animal. Once a licensed wildlife rehabilitator is found, the fawn must be hand-raised and bottle fed until it is old enough to eat solid foods. Because the fawn will not be raised in the wild by its mother, the fawn will not learn critical survival behaviors, and will then take hours of time to teach it to survive though its chances are now diminished.
In these situations, the “best of intentions” has actually resulted in an injustice to the doe and the fawn, that started by someone simply picking up a fawn. The doe looses its offspring, and the fawn’s chances of surviving where it truly belongs, in the wild, are reduced. The only time a fawn should ever be picked up, is if the doe is found dead in the immediate vicinity. If you come across a fawn under this specific circumstance, or any other injured animal, I encourage you to please contact the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department Dispatch at (281) 842-8100 to notify your local game wardens.
State Game Warden Randy Button