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The most heart-warming fawn rescue stories are those in which the fawn isn't rescued.
Monday, June 10, 2013
On a Sunday afternoon in May, Rebecca Batton found herself in a position many Virginians face this time of year.
A resident of a semi-rural section of Albemarle County, she looked into her yard and spotted a tiny whitetail fawn.
The baby deer was all alone, hunkered in the grass.
There is not much cuter than a tiny fawn, but Batton resisted any urge to investigate and left the critter alone.
A couple hours later the fawn stood and moved closer to the house. By the time the couple was ready for bed the fawn was in a flower bed right next to the home.
"We didn't see the mother at all on Sunday," Batton wrote in a recollection published on The Wildlife Center of Virginia's Web site (www.wildlifecenter.org).
With the fawn still around the next morning, Batton called the center.
She was told to go check on the fawn, pinching its skin to see if it was dehydrated, which would indicate that it hadn't been fed in a while.
Batton found the fawn was in good shape, so she left it alone.
Later that day, the mother showed up and the pair headed off.
This is how most discoveries of lone fawns would turn out in the absence of human intervention.
But, as The Wildlife Center's Randy Huwa says, it's human nature to assume that a baby animal found without an adult around must be orphaned.
Rarely is that the case.
Rather, deer are just being deer.
Female deer must eat a lot while nursing. Keeping a fawn by its side while eating would put the young deer in danger, so does hide their young before heading off to feed.
Does return periodically to nurse their young, sometimes moving the young deer, sometimes keeping the fawn hidden in the same general area.
Every year at this time the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries and The Wildlife Center of Virginia stay busy fielding calls from concerned people regarding found fawns.
Huwa said The Wildlife Center takes "hundreds" of calls each spring and early summer.
At least when the calls come, someone at the center can walk the caller through the scenario.
More troubling are cases when the aspiring good samaritan "rescues" the fawn first, then calls.
Despite ongoing educational campaigns, that still happens.
Even if a fawn has been removed from the wild, it often can be returned to the location where it was found and the doe will return to claim it, even after a day or two.
And while legend may have it that a doe will ignore a fawn that has been touched by humans, that is not true.
"The maternal instinct is very strong," Huwa said.
There are cases where fawns have actually been orphaned, in which case intervention is its only chance for survival.
At The Wild Life Center, fawn rehabilitation protocol minimizes human interaction with the animals to reduce the likelihood of the animals becoming too accustomed to humans.
For example, bottles are not held by humans, but are placed in racks.
After fawns are weaned they are fed browse that is thrown into their enclosures.
In late summer the fawns are released in groups on private land belonging to cooperators.
Deer have firmly established social orders, and fawns released alone can face difficulty being accepted into a wild group.
"We do the best we can," Huwa said of the efforts.
Even under the best circumstance, rehabbed fawns face a tough battle in the wild. Some studies have fawn mortality among rehabbed deer to be nearly 100 percent within the animals' first year in the wild.
The Wildlife Center, which has about 50 fawns at its Waynesboro facility at present, does not tag fawns so there is no way to track the survival rate of its rehabbed patients.
Because those animals have not spent the summer learning important lessons about surviving in the wild, it stands to reason that they will be at a disadvantage when out in the wild.
That's why the most heart-warming fawn rescue stories I hear are those in which the fawn isn't rescued, such as the story Batton told and the one that came out of a Christiansburg track practice a few weeks ago.
That afternoon a fawn ran into the girls bathroom at the concession stand. Team members were able to nab the fawn.
After a few pictures - one of which ended up on Facebook and elicited lots of "Awwwwwws" - the fawn was released.
It trotted off and hasn't been seen since, likely because its mama intervened and led it off to someplace quieter than a high school athletic field.
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