Each year the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources sends out a press release reminding the public it is unlawful to take fawns from the wild and raise them. We are asked repeatedly WHY it is unlawful to keep a fawn and what we tell folks has nothing to do with the legality of possessing fawns and everything to do with reasons why fawns should only be cared for by trained wildlife rehabilitators and ONLY IF they truly need to be rescued.
Fawns require a specific diet. So specific that if a fawn is not fed what its body needs in a specific order it can die. And so specific that if a fawn is fed the wrong kind of nutrition it will die. And it will not die right away. It will die months later as its body starts wasting and painfully shuts down from not getting the specific nutritional needs at the specific time they are needed. We cannot be more specific about a fawn’s specific nutritional needs. That paragraph may have been a little annoying to read, but the NUMBER ONE REASON why captive fawns die is from being fed the wrong formula.
Deer are herd animals. They learn all their survival skills from other deer. A deer will not know how to be a deer unless it is raised with other deer. Fawns can imprint on humans fast. If you raise a single fawn it will not have the ability to herd with other deer when it gets older. Allowing a fawn to imprint or become human habituated means it can never be released.
Fawns need to be in herds the moment they are born. A lot of folks only intend to keep a fawn for a couple of months “to have the experience of raising one” and then surrender it to us when the fun is over. These fawns have a difficult time learning to herd once they are in our care. Or people intend to keep the fawn forever as a pet, but once it is too big to keep in their backyard, they start looking for somewhere to surrender the animal or even worse, they release the deer believing it will be able to survive on its own. Fawns that are surrendered after being kept by the owners often refuse to eat on their own or herd with other deer. Older fawns can stress themselves to death when they are removed from their familiar surroundings. And human imprinted and habituated deer are more likely to be hunted, mistaken for having disease and sometimes approach other people expecting to be fed.
Fawns RARELY need to be rescued. Walt Disney ruined what we believe about wildlife. Baby birds do not know how to fly before they leave the nest. They have to live on the ground a few days before they learn to fly. Furry animals do not magically clean our homes for us. Wild animals DO NOT stay with their babies. Let us say this together: WILD ANIMALS DO NOT STAY WITH THEIR BABIES. It is normal for fawns to be left alone for several hours. Mom will park her baby and watch from a safe distance. This is because Mom has a scent that could attract predators and babies do not have a scent. And mom is very visible while babies have spotted fur to help them blend in with their surroundings.
Stress Kills. Fawns removed from the wild will often stress to death. Do not mistake a calm fawn that does not run away as needing help. Animals have a natural “freeze instinct” that will kick in and prevent the animal from running away. Stress in deer causes a condition called capture myopathy. Capture myopathy is painful, and recovery is difficult.
It is important to know when to leave Mother Nature alone. Knowing when a wild animal truly needs help can be difficult for most people. That is where we come in. We are trained to know when an animal needs to be rescued and we can tell you where to take the animal and how to safely transport an animal to reduce stress and further injury. Just call us.
Wildlife rescues WILL NOT tell you how to care for a fawn. Or for any wild animal. We do not promote wildlife as pets and will not assist anyone who intends to keep a wild animal as a pet. Because wildlife rescues exist there is NO reason for a person to keep a wild animal as a pet.
Wildlife rescues are not animal shelters. We are not set up to keep animals forever. We are not here to take a wild animal you can no longer keep. We cannot give medical advice or provide medical care for animals you keep. Our purpose is to rehabilitate wild animals and prepare them for release into the wild BEFORE they become human imprinted or habituated. If a wild animal is brought to us as soon as it is found it has a more than 85% chance of surviving and being released back into its natural habitat when the time is right. Animals that have been kept are compromised and often have issues we cannot reverse.
Of course, there are obvious reasons to rescue a fawn. Fawns need rescue if they are found with a dead mother, are alone for more than 24 hours and showing signs of dehydration, have obvious injuries/bleeding, or if they have ants or fly larva on them. And fawns should only be removed from the wild if you have already contacted a wildlife rescue that has instructed you where to take the fawn. Most wildlife rescues do not pick up. It will be the finder’s responsibility to transport the fawn to a rescue.