Each spring, Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks receives several calls from people who have picked up deer fawns or other wildlife.
FWP advises against this practice for several reasons. The agency does not accept, hold or rehabilitate deer and elk because the animals rarely survive the stress of captivity, and because of concerns with the spread of disease. So FWP’s likely response would be to tell people to leave the animals alone or return them to where they were found.
While people mean well, they may not understand that their intervention could possibly kill the animal or cause injury to it or to themselves. Good intentions can lead to dire consequences.
Every spring, FWP receives calls from good-intentioned people who pick up great horned owls that have bailed out of the nest before they can fly. This is a natural part of their life cycle. The adult owls monitor these young, providing them with food until they can fly — usually just a couple of days. People can help best by not touching the owls and by keeping pets restrained.
In a high-profile case in Yellowstone National Park last summer, a bison calf was picked up and transported by tourists who believed it had been abandoned. The calf ultimately had to be euthanized because it couldn’t be reunited with the herd and continued to approach people and vehicles.
If You Care, Leave Them There
To prevent outcomes like this, FWP emphasizes that all wildlife species and their young should be left in the wild. If you see a young animal alone or injured, whether a goose or a grizzly, keep your distance. It is illegal to possess and care for a live animal taken from the wild.
Animals often thrive without human intervention, and their odds of surviving in the wild are much greater if they are left alone. Once young animals are picked up by people, they usually can’t be rehabilitated. People handling wildlife also may injure themselves or the animal, or habituate it to humans, potentially causing problems if the animal is released back into the wild.
It’s natural for deer, elk and other animals to leave their young alone for extended periods of time. What appears to be an orphaned animal may not be, but chances are the mother will not return while humans are present. Fawns are seldom orphaned, but if they are, another doe may add them to the group. In 8 to 10 days, a fawn will have the appropriate gut flora and can survive on its own by nibbling grass. Young fawns have no body odor, which lessens their appeal to predators. Their spots also help to camouflage them while their mothers stash them to feed.
If you take dogs into the field, be sure to keep your dog under control, especially in the spring when newborn wildlife is most vulnerable. Pet owners can be cited, and dogs that harass or kill wildlife may, by law, have to be destroyed.
What FWP Can Do
FWP does have a Wildlife Rehabilitation Center in Helena. But an intake policy governs what animals are permitted, and space and staff are limited. Only an FWP official can authorize an animal being picked up and transported to the center.
If you find a wild animal and you think it needs help, you should keep your distance and monitor the animal. If you have questions, contact your local FWP official or Montana WILD at 406-444-9944.
As a wildlife agency, FWP’s priority is to keep wild animals wild, and we urge the public to help us in this mission.
For more information about encountering wildlife in Montana, visit http://fwp.mt.gov/recreation/safety/wildlife/.