Small, cute and vulnerable: a fawn hidden in the grass all alone may look like it needs help, but well-meaning humans could be doing more harm than good if they try to intervene.
It’s the time of year when wildlife are giving birth and young animals and people are crossing paths.
However, experts want the public to know fawns aren’t necessarily in distress or abandoned if they’re spotted all alone.
“What a lot of people don’t realize is that moms leave their babies for long periods of time. When they’re first born, mom has an odour and the baby doesn’t, so mom knows it just makes really good sense to just go in and feed and leave again really quickly so a predator won’t find her baby,” said Hope Swinimer, founder of the Hope for Wildlife rehabilitation centre for animals in Seaforth, N.S.
The centre regularly receives fawns, many of which were left orphaned when their mothers were hit by cars.
But in a growing number of cases, fawns are being brought in when people mistakenly think they need help.
“Because there’s less and less habitat and more and more buildings going up, there’s less space, so people are finding these little fawns more and more often,” she said.
“The thing to do is take a look and see if the fawn is sitting ever so quietly, not shivering, not crying out, no blood, no obvious injuries — then that tells me that’s a really healthy fawn.”
In that case, she advises against touching or picking up the animal, and stresses the importance of not taking the fawn home.
“By touching it and picking it up, it puts your odour on the animal and a predator could be led to that fawn and the whole the idea is that they sit quietly, they don’t have an odour and a predator is not able to get them,” Swinimer said.
“We get a lot where people call us and say, ‘Oh we’ve had this fawn here for over a week, it’s real tame … and it gets along with the dog and it sleeps in the family bed.’ It’s really scary stuff for us because animals at a very young age can become what’s called imprinted and that just means it doesn’t know it’s a fawn. It probably thinks it’s part human.”
Hope for Wildlife first tries to reunite fawns with their mothers. Last year, they received 32 calls related to fawns and were able to successfully reunite 12 of them by bringing them back to where they were initially found.
However, fawns that can’t be reunited and have had close contact with humans face an incredibly difficult journey of being re-integrated back into the wild.
“Particularly with the males, they can be really dangerous when they reach adulthood. And if they’re really used to people, if they’re imprinted on people from spending even a short period of time in someone’s house, that can affect their survival in that they’ll be labelled a nuisance deer,” said Dr. Sara Seemel, a veterinarian who has worked at Hope for Wildlife.
Experts agree if anyone believes they have come across wildlife that needs help, the first step is to either call the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) or a rehabilitation centre.
“Sometimes people mean well, but that’s the worst thing that you can do is take an animal out of nature,” said Butch Galvez, a wildlife technician with DNR.
“Certainly something that you don’t want to do and it’s also prohibited by the wildlife act. You can’t possess or take in wildlife species.”
Hope For Wildlife is currently taking care of 10 fawns, one of which was hit by a car and another that was hit by an ATV.
“We have one that was in someone’s home for over a week and so there is one that is a little friendlier than the rest but we’re really hopeful that he’ll become part of the herd and by the end of the season when we get ready to release these animals back to the wild, he’ll just be part of the herd and we won’t even be able to tell him from the rest,” Swinimer said.