If You Find a Fawn, Leave it Alone
It’s that time of year again when white-tailed deer fawns are showing up in yards and hayfields, prompting concerned citizens to want to know how to help. In almost all cases, the best way to help is to simply give the fawn space and leave it alone.
Mr. Marvin Gautier sent these photos to us of a lone fawn, taken at his home in Giles County. He did just as VDGIF advises and left the little fawn alone, and it wandered back into the woods after cooling off under his garden table. Thanks, Marvin, for sharing these photos and the reminder to leave baby wildlife alone.
Concerned people sometimes pick up animals that they think are orphaned. Most such “orphans” that good-intentioned citizens “rescue” every spring should have been left alone. Most wild animals will not abandon their young, but they do leave them alone for long periods of time while looking for food.
Fawns, born from April through July, are purposely left alone by their mothers. Female deer, called does, stay away from the fawns to avoid leading predators such as dogs or coyotes to their location. The white-spotted coat camouflages a fawn as it lies motionless in vegetation.
Does will return several times each day to move and/or feed their young. You probably will not see the doe at all since she only stays to feed the fawn for just a very few minutes before leaving it alone again. If less than 24 hours have passed since a fawn has been “rescued,” the fawn should be taken back and released at the exact same location where it was found.
If a wild animal has been injured or truly orphaned, do not take matters into your own hands. You may locate a licensed wildlife rehabilitator by calling the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries’ (VDGIF) toll-free wildlife conflict helpline at 1-855-571-9003, 8:00AM–4:30PM, Monday through Friday, or visit the VDGIF website.
Raising a wild animal in captivity is illegal unless you have a state permit, which is available only to zoos and wildlife rehabilitators. Each animal’s nutritional, housing, and handling requirements are very specific and must be met if they have any chance of survival. Feeding the wrong food to a fawn can make it very sick and possibly lead to its death. For example, cow’s milk will induce very severe diarrhea in fawns.
With even the best professional care possible, the survival rate of rehabilitated fawns and many other animals is very low. More than 50% of fawns brought to rehabilitation facilities die before being released due to injuries they come in with and unavoidable physical stress during the rehabilitation process. Of those fawns that are released, a very small percentage survives the first year in the wild. Furthermore, many rehabilitation facilities have to turn fawns away due to limited housing and staff. Treating fawns takes resources away from treating animals that are rare or endangered.
Wildlife managers have additional concerns about fawn rehabilitation. The process requires deer to be moved, treated (often in contact with other deer), and then released back into the wild. Often, rehabilitated deer must be released into areas with already high deer populations. Movement and commingling of deer increase the risks that contagious diseases, such as tuberculosis or chronic wasting disease (CWD), will be introduced into Virginia’s wild deer population. In fact, detections of CWD in Frederick and Shenandoah Counties have prompted the prohibition of deer rehabilitation in Clarke, Frederick, Shenandoah, and Warren Counties.
The best advice for someone who wants to help wildlife is to keep it wild. Once people interfere, we reduce the opportunity for animals to receive natural care and we increase the risk of harming our wildlife heritage. More information can be obtained on the agency’s website. Among the useful resources is a revised brochure entitled “Keeping Deer Wild in Virginia.”