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Fawns should be left alone in the wild

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- It happens every spring.

Dozens of well-meaning West Virginians find newborn fawns curled up in tall grass, and immediately assume the critter is abandoned.

They capture the fawn and take it to wildlife officials, or worse, attempt to raise it themselves.

Gene Thorn, superintendent at the West Virginia Wildlife Center in French Creek, said touching fawns or other young wildlife is the wrong thing to do. "Wild animals should be left alone and allowed to stay wild," he added.

Most of the time, especially with deer fawns, the animals have not actually been abandoned.

Fawns routinely hide motionless in weeds or brush while their mothers feed. Thorn said the mothers sometimes leave their young for hours, or even a day, before returning to reclaim them.

The fawns' spotted coloration and lack of scent keeps them well camouflaged from predators.

Handling the fawns actually gives them a scent that predators can home in on. It also, Thorn explained, can expose the handler to a variety of wildlife-associated diseases and parasites.

"Rabies, roundworms and other parasites such as lice and ticks can be transmitted to humans through the improper handling of wildlife," he said.

The fawns themselves can be harmed by the well-meaning folks who "rescue" them.

All too often, people attempt to feed the foundlings, usually with canned milk. The fawn gets its belly filled, but only for a short while before severe diarrhea sets in.

Bill Vanscoy, the Wildlife Center's retired former superintendent, used to gripe that he all too often was forced to try to rehabilitate fawns that had been given "the screaming scours" by people who fed them evaporated milk.

The bottom line, said Thorn, is that humans don't make good substitute parents for fawns and other young animals. Not only are they incapable of feeding their charges the right food, they can't pass along to them the same survival skills a real parent can.

Division of Natural Resources officials have a final, rather compelling reason to leave wildlife alone: Attempting to take animals from the wild during a closed season is against the law. If caught and convicted, violators could end up paying fines of $20 to $1,000 and could be sentenced up to 100 days in jail.

Reach John McCoy at johnmccoy@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1231.


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