Everyone knows not to disturb a bird’s nest. In fact, many people enforce the myth that birds abandon all eggs or chicks touched by humans.
Why, then, should wildlife agencies remind the masses every May and June to keep their gloves off “abandoned” fawns huddled under bushes, backyard decks, and even parked cars? And why do politicians scold wildlife agencies while “paroling” bottle-fed “rescue fawns” that the agency intends to euthanize, based on science-based policy?
Well, maybe people feel more affectionate and more capable of raising fawns than feathered chicks. Their empathy is so strong that they cannot believe that they will doom a fawn to an early death or lifelong captivity by taking it to the nearest wildlife rehabilitator.
“People don’t understand why an animal the size of a human would leave its baby alone in the forest and only come back once or twice a day to feed it,” said Professor Duane Diefenbach, a wildlife researcher in the school of sciences. Penn State farms. “Our offspring depend heavily on us for years, and we spend a lot of time and effort caring for and raising them. Humans assume something is wrong if they don’t see a mother deer near each fawn. It’s hard to convince them that the doe is within earshot, and that they should just walk away and leave the fawn alone.”
Few ‘Rescued Fawns’ Survive
Humans, of course, are ill-equipped to herd fawns during their first few weeks of life. Even if they are successful, the fawn will likely not survive the first three months and return to the wild. Connecticut researchers Scott Williams and Michael Gregonis monitored 29 injured or apparently orphaned fawns raised by licensed wildlife rehabilitators and released at three months of age in 2010 and 2011. Of those 29 fawns, 25 died within three months. to his release. The 100-day survival rate for all fawns was 13.8%.
Those results, published in 2015 in The Wildlife Society Bulletin, were slightly worse than those reported in a 2004 study led by Jeff Beringer at the Missouri Department of Conservation.
Beringer reported that the 100-day survival rate of 42 fawns collected by the public and raised by wildlife rehabilitators in 2000 and 2001 was 23.2%. He also noted that his research team was unable to account for another 11 radio-collared fawns after losing their signals. In the first month after the fawns’ rehabilitation and release alone, 22 of them (52%) were dead. The Missouri researchers also reported that fawns that lived longer than 100 days generally stayed close to human habitations, often becoming a nuisance or causing safety problems.
Connecticut researchers reported similar concerns. His 2015 project looked at two methods of releasing fawns at three months of age. The 13 fawns that were “gently released” had unlimited access to human-provided food and water inside their release pen, which was kept open and well-stocked so the fawns could come and go freely. The other 16 fawns were “released” into an 8.7-square-mile state forest without further assistance. All fawns wore expandable radio collars, were monitored daily for 30 days, and then two to three times per week after the first month.
All 16 fawns released with difficulty died within five weeks of release. And while four of the 13 gently released fawns lived to be more than 100 days old, they remained close to their release pen and “lacked the behavioral attributes that truly wild white-tailed deer need to survive to adulthood.”
The Connecticut study reported the same causes of death for both delivery methods. Necropsies cited coyotes for 56% of deaths; unknown causes for 16%; shootings (one legal, one illegal), 8%; vehicle collisions, 8%; pneumonia, 8%; and bobcat, 4%.
The Missouri study reported similar causes of death, citing canids (dogs or coyotes) for killing 15 fawns, 50%; unknown for six fawns, 20%; drowning and other accidents of three fawns, 10%; lynx for three, 10%; poachers for two, 6%; and legal hunting for one, 3%.
The studies also noted that the mortality rates of “rehabilitated” fawns exceeded those of fawns raised in the wild by their biological mothers. Earlier studies from Missouri found that fawn mortality in the wild can exceed 50%, but most fawns make it by the time they reach 10 weeks of age. In one study, only 16% of fawns died between 10 weeks of age and 6 months. Similarly, the Connecticut researchers said their rehabilitated fawns were dying at nearly twice the rate of deer raised in the wild in similar climates.
Both studies raised another concern about rehabilitating fawns in captivity and releasing them into the wild: In addition to making fawns dependent on humans, penning them with other fawns in a region could expose them to chronic disease and, more recently, COVID-19. 19. Therefore, several states require rehabilitators to accept and release pups only from their county of residence and to euthanize “rescued” pups from CWD-infected counties. If fawns spread the disease to other deer in the facility, and those deer escape or are released elsewhere, they could spread the disease further.
Unfortunately, politicians often complicate these situations by not explaining their state’s science-based policy. Instead, some agencies require exceptions. That’s especially common once people name a fawn and notify the media when a wildlife agency intends to euthanize it.
In 2011, for example, former Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker stepped in to save “Charlotte,” a 15-month-old doe that a Lake Geneva man nursed back to health after she was hit by a car and also killed. his mother. The man contacted a Chicago newspaper after refusing to turn over the deer to the Department of Natural Resources. “Charlotte” eventually ended up in captivity for life.
The Wisconsin DNR received death threats about two years after euthanizing a fawn named “Giggles.” A family took the fawn to a Kenosha County animal shelter in August 2013 after “finding” it nearby. Upon learning of the fawn’s situation, the DNR visited the shelter, removed the fawn, and euthanized it. Governor Walker said the DNR’s policy should be reexamined, adding, “I don’t want to see anything like that again.”
However, the agency’s policy-setting board refused to change the rule.
Science Justifies a Hard Line
As Beringer pointed out in the 2004 Missouri study, wildlife agencies believe the science-based approach is justified.
“The money and effort expended to raise orphaned and ‘harvested’ white-tailed deer fawns does not result in the long-term survival of the animals and does not appear to be a humane alternative,” Beringer wrote. “It appears that human-inhabited fawns probably won’t go back to being wild deer. Although some released deer may survive, they show little fear of humans and can become a nuisance or present public safety concerns.”