A couple of weeks ago, some folks came into our office at Ouabache Trails Park and handed us what they thought was a manifestation of their daily good deed. As their story went, they had scooped a days-old fawn from the side of the road where it appeared to them that its mother had abandoned it. As I tried to decipher one voice from the other four people, all talking at once, trying to explain what had supposedly happened, I had to hold my tongue, and a bit of my temper.
The questionable narrative went something to the effect of this. The mother and fawn tried to run up a hillside together, but the fawn was too new at it to do it successfully and follow its mother. When the people, who had been admiring the two deer, noticed this, they decided that they could deduce that the mother had abandoned its fawn because it didn’t come back down the hill to retrieve it and help it up the hillside. Maybe that had something to do with the five humans gawking, pointing and, I imagine, noisily carrying on by the road. If I was a deer, I wouldn’t run into a large group of squawking humans either.
We took the fawn from them, created a makeshift bed for it and quickly shooed the blusterous family out the door. I can’t imagine how terrified the young fawn must have been. First, being whisked away by strange hands from its mother, then passed around among strange human creatures.
I immediately called Knox County’s resident licensed wildlife rehabilitation expert, Angle Lange, who gave us the all clear to bring the fawn to his house. We did try to find the mother doe to see if a reunion could be worked out, but, alas, the trauma must have been a bit too much for her. So, off to Angel the little fawn went.
During most of the drive to Angel’s the fawn kept its little head down and didn’t make a sound. Just about as I reached his driveway, she (we think it was a young doe), popped her head up and started to look around, curious and inquisitive. Once she was safely delivered to Angel, I got back in my truck and muttered something to myself about messing with nature.
Here’s my weekly sermon from the mount of Ouabache Trails: Please don’t remove animals from their natural environment except under extremely dire circumstances. I later talked with Angel again to see how the fawn was doing and also to get some confirmation of what most of us know intrinsically, that nature is best left to nature and that despite our good intentions, humans don’t usually have the intended effect when they get involved in natural proceedings.
“If the mama isn’t obviously dead next to the baby, it’s probably alive somewhere. (She’s) got to be out foraging to make milk for the babies. Just because you can’t see the mama doesn’t mean it’s dead,” Angel told me.
If an animal mother is dead, that’s unfortunate, but, again, Angel strongly suggested that human intervention be kept to an absolute minimum.
“Sometimes you’ve got to let nature take its course on that. A lot of people have good hearts but sometimes they have to leave the baby,” he said.
There is also an important legal consideration when considering picking up orphaned animals. The first thing to do, Angel advised, is to call either the sheriff’s department or a conservation officer to come out to investigate the circumstances. If they don’t come out, they will give out Angel’s phone number and he will likely come out to investigate whether recovering any baby animals is warranted. If an animal is removed without the consent of law enforcement, it’s technically considered taking game out of season or without a permit/tag.
Angel also clarified another misconception that may have led to some animal babies having been separated from their mothers. It is not true that once your scent gets on any animal, that baby will be abandoned by the mother. Fur-bearing animals, especially, Angel said, are not condemned if touched by a human. So, if someone has laid his/her hands on a baby rabbit or fawn, etc., do not think that you need to remove it and take it somewhere else, the mother can recognize her babies regardless of some residual Old Spice left on someone’s fingers.
Angel said the fawn we brought him is doing just fine and we’ll likely see her again out at Ouabache Trails once she’s old enough to be out on her own. That’s a good thing. I know most of the time people like to think that they’re doing some good by rescuing animals but, please, be cognizant of the fact that we don’t always analyze those situations accurately. In fact, unless trained in such ventures, chances are we haven’t. In that case, the chance is higher that someone intervening in nature will be doing more harm than good.
Angel summed it up nicely at the end of our conversation. “Use your brain and just leave them alone. That’s the best possible outcome.”
Rama Sobhani's column appears every other Sunday. He can be reached at email@example.com.