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Orphaned Fawns, Pet Deer, and the Right Thing to Do
“Hey babe, come look at this,” said my wife from the back patio.
As I came up to her, I saw a small, spotted creature with immense ears. About the size of a medium sized dog, but perched on spindly legs, I looked into the eyes of the fawn poking around the property line.
“Hmm,” I said, “Little fawn. Cute little fella.”
My wife, always one to take in a stray and have to be ushered past the tail gaiters with free puppies at Wal-Mart, looked to me with the same eyes the fawn had. “He looks lost! Can we keep him?”
I sipped my coffee and walked back to the kitchen, “it’s fine. He’s not lost, just wandering around.”
She was heartbroken and demanded to know how I could tell in just a glance.
Well, here goes.
Identifying an orphaned Fawn
White tail deer, such as those found in abundance across all of Mississippi, rut in the fall and winter which leads to thousands of cute little baby deer being born from late April to about mid-July of the following year. When born, these fawns will have a more reddish coat than their parents will, and are covered with hundreds of small white spots. These spots help the fawn blend in with the myriad of blooming wildflowers and weeds in the spring and summertime when it is born. As a bonus protection from good ole Mother Nature, fawns have no sent which keeps predators from smelling them. As such, the mothers of these nursing fawns try to stay away from their young as much as possible to not rub off their own scent. By October, the young fawns normally lose their spots and at that time are foraging rather than nursing, well on their way to adulthood.
With this in mind, if you see a spotted fawn in spring and summer, odds are it will not be with its mother right beside it. Mom is most likely hidden in a thicket nearby while the kids explore the world. Alternatively, mama doe may have left junior behind so she could go get some grub, as she is still eating for two.
One of the best signs to see if a fawn is orphaned and in distressed is if it is dehydrated. A dehydrated baby deer is a deer that is unable to nurse for some reason. Perhaps mom is dead, or perhaps she is sick and not producing milk. Whatever the case, these dehydrated fawns can be readily identified by the position of their ears. A dehydrated fawn will have their wide ears curled back at the tips, or, in later stages, will be collapsed and non-responsive to stimulus. If a fawn has nice, strait ears and is walking around, it’s most likely not an orphan. Leave it be. Mom will be very alert to human smells on her baby, and may not want anything to do with it if you try to play hug-the-fawn. Worse, if you lead the fawn away, the doe’s milk will begin to dry within as little as 24-hours.
As the old timers say, “Ears are straight, fawn is great. Ears are curled; it’s alone in the world.”
What to do if you find one?
So you have an orphaned deer on your hands. Your baby is sick, its ears are curled, and it is just plain old pathetic. You have observed the fawn for hours and it’s neither moved away or had a mother come to tend to it. As confirmation, you may have even found a nursing doe killed by a car a few blocks away. What do you do now?
The best and most correct answer is to find a local wildlife rehabilitation group that can take the animal. While they don’t advertise due to lack of funds, these little known wildlife heroes are State/Federal licensed Wildlife Rehabilitators, Caregivers, or Veterinarians located across the state. A good resource to find one locally is MS Wild Life Rehab.org. If you come up short, give your local conservation office a call as soon as possible.
Until the animal can be picked up or taken to a rehabber, keep it warm and dry and do not try to feed it any food other than plain water.
Can you keep it as a pet?
The simple answer is no. Now re-read that sentence if you have questions. In Mississippi, it is illegal to keep a deer as a pet. If you are busted with one, you are facing at a minimum of a class 3 offense, and you could be looking at up to a $1000 Fine (plus fees) and/or as much as 6 months in jail. It is also illegal to import whitetail deer into Mississippi. This is for the animal’s own good.
Wild animals taken in as pets are no longer wild, yet are never really pets. Once the steps down that road are taken, the animal is in a strange catch-22 situation. It can never be released into the wild because it’s become so dependent on humans that it can never learn to properly take care of itself. Yet, it can’t be properly vaccinated and cared for enough to be anything other than an easy target for passing poachers.
Pet deer were recently banned in Arkansas. In neighboring Tennessee its long been illegal to harbor pet wild deer.
So remember all this when your wife calls you to the deck with doe eyes.
I need to get that woman a dog.
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