What to do and not do with abandoned fawns

Leave them alone; the doe never strays far
June 10, 2013

The fawning season for white-tailed deer in Delaware has begun, with most fawns born during the last week of May through the first week of June. With the season’s onset come the inevitable calls to the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control’s Division of Fish and Wildlife about “abandoned” fawns, and how “doing the right thing” means “saving” these newborns by bringing them home or to a wildlife rehabilitator.

Actually, that’s the wrong thing to do, according to Division of Fish and Wildlife biologist Joe Rogerson: “People who remove fawns from the field may not realize some wildlife facts,” he said. “First and foremost, the fawn hasn’t been abandoned at all.”

“So even if a fawn appears to be alone, the mother is likely bedded close by. Newborn fawns need to feed every few hours so the doe never strays far,” Rogerson said. “Fawns don’t become active enough to start traveling with their mothers until they are about two months old, so the survival instinct of a newborn fawn is to stay very still and hide from predators.”

Furthermore, research has shown that many fawns cared for by people have a greatly decreased chance of survival once they are released back into the wild, compared to deer raised by their mothers. Fawns raised in the wild are able to learn survival instincts from their mothers that people simply cannot teach them.

Not only is removing a fawn from its hiding place not in the animal’s best interest, it is also illegal for an individual in Delaware to possess a live white-tailed deer. Such an offense is punishable by a fine not less than $250, nor more than $1,000, plus the costs of prosecution and court costs; the person may also be fined and faces up to 30 days in jail. Any deer held illegally in captivity will be removed by the Division of Fish and Wildlife. It is a violation of both state and federal laws to remove wildlife from a neighboring state and bring the animal back to Delaware.

“The bottom line is, if you really care about the fawn and its well-being, please leave the animal alone. Its mother will soon return and the animal will have a far greater chance at survival than if you take it home,” Rogerson said. “This same practice is applicable for most baby animals that people may encounter this spring. Generally, an animal’s best chance at survival is when it is left in the wild.”

For more information about fawns or Delaware’s white-tailed deer, contact Rogerson at 302-735-3600.

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