Leaving young wildlife alone
July 11, 2011
The time for young wildlife animals to be born has arrived in Colorado, usually occurring in May and June and its not long before newly born take their first steps into this large domain, sometimes near watchful people. The Colorado Division of Wildlife is reminding the public that the well intentioned impulse to save what appears to be an orphaned or abandoned animal can often lead to unintended consequences, including the death of an animal.
For many people, a common reaction when seeing a young fawn (deer) or (calf) elk is to treat it as they would a human baby and attempt to rescue. Division officials warn that projecting human behavior onto young wildlife often does more harm than good. The instincts that leads the female to leave the offspring alone at times is a natural method of protection. The last thing it needs is human intervention.
I have lived in Glade Park for over 40 years and worked several years for Wildlife Rescue. There were many times when a knock on the door would bring people with a small fawn or calf. This meant an explanation on why the small creature should not have been moved and a trip to the place they had picked it up and a couple of trips back to the destination to make sure the mother had found the young one which most of the time was a success.
Deer are a common example. A fawn that stumbles about weakly while learning to walk will attract predators, coyotes, mountain lion and many others, so evolution has provided effective methods of protection. Newborn fawns are naturally well camouflaged, don’t emit scents that attract predators and can lie still for a long time. As a result, they are actually safer if their mothers leave them on their own. Even a curious person watching a fawn from a distance could alert predators to the animal’s presence and prevent its mother from returning.
In some rare cases when the young animal’s mother has been hurt or killed there are some steps you can take to protect the orphaned offspring. If the mother of a young animal does not return for more than twelve hours, or it is obvious that it has been hurt or killed, it’s best to report the location to the Division of Wildlife. Trained personnel or volunteers can respond and make sure the animal can be reintroduced into the wild.
Many orphaned animals can be taken to licensed wildlife rehabilitation centers where trained personnel work hard to make sure the animal can be reintroduced into wild.
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People are cautioned to avoid “rescuing” the animal themselves or trying to keep it as a pet, which in most cases is illegal. Even the best efforts to rehabilitate an injured or orphaned animal can lead to poor nutrition, stress and behavioral problems. Young animals will often “imprint” on a caregiver, a role played normally by their mother. Even if a person successfully nurses a baby wildlife animal, the young may learn to become more comfortable around humans, which makes it necessary for the animal to be kept in captivity. Associating with humans will also prevent the young animal from learning the skills it needs to survive on its own. A wild animal held in captivity by an unqualified caretaker can also present a public safety risk as it can bite or attack its caretaker or others.
Every case is different, so it’s best to let trained wildlife staff and volunteers respond and make a determination. Once a human intervenes the animals future becomes more limited.
Because dogs explore off-trail areas and will team up with other domestic dogs to run in packs the Colorado Division of Wildlife strongly recommends that people keep their dogs leashed. It will keep the dog safe, and prevents them chasing wildlife causing injuries or death.
Shirley Kelly would like to thank Mike Porras Colorado Division of Wildlife for all the information.