The first thing that greeted me last week on a visit to MARS was the mournful “bleating” that announced the arrival of the first fawn of 2012.
Looking into a cage nestled in blankets under a heat lamp was one fragile black tailed fawn that had been found by the road and picked up by well-meaning people passing by.
Each year, MARS sends out the same message: “If you care — leave them there.” In other words, do not touch baby wildlife, especially fawns, seal pups, raccoons, ducklings, birds or any other species.
This time last year we had 11 fawns and expect another influx this year in the next few weeks as the cold spring may have delayed their arrival. Many of the fawns we receive or rescue at the centre have been “kidnapped” by well-meaning people who do not understand the negative impact they will have on the fawn’s survival.
A doe will hide her fawn in the forest amongst the bushes or brush under the trees whilst she goes foraging for food to top up her milk supply. The fawns are perfectly camouflaged to blend in with their surroundings, brown and white spotted coats resemble the sun-dappled bushes.
Instinctively, the fawns know to remain silent and completely still, not even twitching their ears. By approaching a hidden fawn, you not only scare away the doe that is often very close by, but you may also attract unwanted predators to the fawn’s location.
It is a myth that a doe will not take back a fawn that has been handled by humans. We successfully reunited a fawn and doe after the fawn had been in captivity for two days.
Fawns must be fed every few hours throughout the day and are unable to travel very far during the first two months after birth. This time is also critical for the fawns’ future survival.
The mother passes on not only foraging and survival skills but her precious antibodies, which will help the fawn fend off certain diseases that can attack the deer, causing diarrhea leading to dehydration and eventual death.
It is against the Wildlife Act to keep any species in captivity. Before assuming that an animal or bird is injured or orphaned, please call our emergency line at 1-800-304-9968 and we can advise you on how to proceed if necessary.
During the time I have volunteered at MARS, I have seen the results of people interfering with wildlife trying to raise baby fawns, raccoons, birds, ducklings or other species, but often they end up “killing them with kindness.”
Proper diet and understanding on how to administer the food is often very difficult. We cannot begin to replicate the methods used by the parents. Many birds are fed regurgitated food; others allow the baby to help themselves from inside their mouth or crop, and a doe will lick the fawn to stimulate them to suckle, none of which I would want to do!
We hope to raise funds to build a permanent fawn barn to house the fawns, which can be very time-consuming, and their special milk formula is also very expensive. On average, one fawn consumes 1.2 litres of milk a day.
We are all very aware of fawns in our areas and some think they are a nuisance, but it is our impact from continually encroaching into their habitat and pushing them into ever shrinking areas, which encourages them to dine in our gardens and occasionally become aggressive with pets and humans. What can you do to help?
• If you find a fawn watch, wait and call us for advice, if it is on the road carefully move it into the bush if safe to do so.
• If you see deer at the side of the road, slow down. Expect deer to jump out; keep your eyes out for them especially when travelling at dawn and dusk.
• Obey the “deer crossing” signs. They really do cross there.
• If you find a dead deer on the road please where possible move it to the side of the road as this will then attract other animals and birds, especially eagles, who may also get hit feeding on the carcass.
• If you find a baby bird (without feathers) please try to locate the nest and where possible replace the bird, the mother will find it and feed it. Feathered songbirds cannot fly when they fledge and need to run along the ground for a few days.
Please try to follow these simple rules and enjoy baby wildlife from a distance. Remember to keep pets indoors or on a leash when walking in parks or along shorelines.
For further information, visit www.wingtips.org. For all other calls, ring 250-337-2021.
Sandy Fairfield is the educational co-ordinator for the Mountainaire Avian Rescue Society (MARS). The MARS column appears every second Friday.