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Larry Woody: Leave fawns, other wildlife alone

Larry Woody • Updated May 31, 2017 at 12:30 PM

This is the time of year when fawns and other new-born wildlife start appearing, often with no parents in sight.

Some well-intended wildlife watchers can’t resist “rescuing” baby animals they come across. When they do, it’s often a death sentence for the new-born.

Wild animals don’t fare well in captivity. If they do manage to survive for awhile, when they are eventually released back into the wild they are not conditioned for survival. That’s why biologists’ initial efforts to stock incubator-hatched wild turkeys never succeeded. Unless the chicks were nurtured and taught how to survive by a mother hen, they were unable to fend for themselves after being released.

Fawns are particularly susceptible to being “rescued,” for a number of reasons:

They are easy to catch because instinct prompts them to curl up in a ball and lie still, relying on camouflage for protection from predators.

They are docile and defenseless; they don’t bite or scratch when picked up.

They appear helpless and pitiable because the mother is not in sight. In truth, however, they are seldom abandoned. Instead, the mother is likely watching from a safe distance, waiting for the human intruder to leave before returning to her fawn.

Some biologists believe that going near the fawn and leaving human scent in the area – or worse still, handling the fawn – can cause the mother to truly abandon it.

If fawn is discovered, the best thing to do is not approach it. Observe it briefly from a distance, then quietly leave.

In a rare case in which a fawn’s mother is confirmed dead or injured – a car collision, for example – a wildlife office can be contacted and appraised of the situation.

Generally speaking, even under such circumstances leaving the fawn alone is in its best interest.

There’s another good reason to leave newborn wildlife – and all wildlife – alone. In Tennessee, it’s against the law to capture or confine any wild animal.

Baby animals such as raccoons may appear cute and cuddly and often can be pen-raised and “tamed.” But they remain wild animals, and their bites, scratches and parasites can transfer diseases to humans and domestic pets. Raccoons are especially prone to carry the rabies virus.

Also, if it were legal to possess wild animals for pets, a black market would develop, encouraging the capture of wildlife for sale.

Every spring the media carries stories about wild animals being “rescued,” only to be confiscated and returned to the wild by “heartless” wildlife officials. What is not reported is that the animals almost always would have fared better if they had been left alone in their natural area.

Capturing wild animals is seldom good for the animal nor safe for the person doing the capturing. It’s a lose-lose proposition.

Wild animals – including cute, cuddly babies – belong in the wild.

Larry Woody is The Democrat’s outdoors writer.

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