Best to leave wildlife babies in the wild

The annual springtime wave of downy hatchling birds and fuzzy baby mammals is close at hand. Some might already have young in nest or burrow.

Seeing these new babies in the wild can be a special treat — but it should happen from a distance and not involve handling these young creatures, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources advised.

Every year, well-meaning but misguided people needlessly remove baby animals from the wild, thinking they have been abandoned or orphaned.

“Each spring and summer, we are flooded with calls as people across the state run into a common dilemma — they have come across a baby animal and desperately want to help,” according to the DNR. “The best thing you can do to help, however, is to leave the animal alone.”

Many species of wildlife hide their young for safety, with the mother returning only sporadically to avoid drawing attention to the site, wildlife experts say.

Deer fawns found bedded down and motionless often are mistaken for being abandoned. But it is not uncommon for does to leave fawns unattended for up to eight hours, according to the DNR. This behavior minimizes the scent of the mother left around the fawn, which when born has almost no scent, and allows the fawn to go undetected by predators. A doe with twins might even leave the two at different locations so if it loses one, the other will evade detection.

“You may think these fawns have been abandoned, but that rarely is the case. The mother will return periodically to nurse her fawn when she feels it is safe,” said Hannah Schauer, DNR wildlife communications coordinator. “Your best move is to quietly enjoy the fawn from a distance, because leaving baby animals in the wild ensures their greatest chance for survival.”

Humans who discover a fawn on their property should take it as a compliment the doe considers it a safe place — and, respecting that trust, walk away. Don’t pet the fawn, don’t pose with it, don’t let the grandkids cuddle up for photos. Deer can be fatally overstressed by handling.

Don’t keep checking on the fawn or hover nearby watching for the doe — she’ll be less likely to come back if she senses someone is near.

Do keep pets inside, no matter how friendly or gentle or cute you think the interaction might be. While it might seem a moment made for Disney or Instagram, the ending can be very bad.

It’s a frequent DNR message that bears repeating: only licensed wildlife rehabilitators may possess abandoned or injured wildlife, including deer, in Michigan.

Taken from their mothers, many of these young animals face bleak prospects because of the amount of care and special diets or formulas they require. Some also can carry diseases or parasites that can be passed on to humans or pets, the DNR added.

And even if successfully raised by people, the animal may be too habituated to humans to return to the wild.

The only time to possibly step in is when the parent obviously is dead or the animal injured, according to the DNR. If an animal truly is in distress, a list of licensed rehabilitators can be found at the web site mi.gov/wildlife or by calling a local DNR office.

Otherwise, do that baby — and yourself — a favor and leave it be.


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