Rare triplet fawns frolicked in a field. (Photo by Carolyn Choate)
If you find a fawn, leave it alone
It's that time of year again when white-tailed deer fawns are showing up in yards and hayfields, and concerned citizens want to know how to help.
According to a news release from the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, in almost all cases, the best way to help is to simply give the fawn space and leave it alone.
Concerned people sometimes pick up animals that they think are orphaned. Most such "orphans" that good-intentioned citizens "rescue" every spring should have been left alone. Most wild animals will not abandon their young, but they do leave them alone for long periods of time while looking for food.
Fawns, born from April through July, are purposely left alone by their mothers. Female deer, called does, stay away from the fawns to avoid leading predators such as dogs or coyotes to their location. The white-spotted coat camouflages a fawn as it lies motionless in vegetation.
Does will return several times each day to move and/or feed their young. You probably will not see the doe at all since she only stays to feed the fawn for just a very few minutes before leaving it alone again. If less than 24 hours have passed since a fawn has been "rescued," the fawn should be taken back and released at the exact same location where it was found.
If a wild animal has been injured or truly orphaned, do not take matters into your own hands. You may locate a licensed wildlife rehabilitator by calling the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries' (VDGIF) toll-free wildlife conflict helpline at 1 (855) 571-9003, 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday or visit the VDGIF website at: http://www.dgif.virginia.gov/wildlife/problems/.
Raising a wild animal in captivity is illegal unless you have a state permit, which is available only to zoos and wildlife rehabilitators. Each animal's nutritional, housing, and handling requirements are very specific and must be met if they have any chance of survival. Feeding the wrong food to a fawn can make it very sick and possibly lead to its death. For example, cow's milk will induce very severe diarrhea in fawns.
With even the best professional care possible, the survival rate of rehabilitated fawns and many other animals is very low. More than 50% of fawns brought to rehabilitation facilities die before being released due to injuries they come in with and unavoidable physical stress during the rehabilitation process.
Of those fawns that are released, a very small percentage survive the first year in the wild. Furthermore, many rehabilitation facilities have to turn fawns away due to limited housing and staff. Treating fawns takes resources away from treating animals that are rare or endangered.
Wildlife managers have additional concerns about fawn rehabilitation. The process requires deer to be moved, treated (often in contact with other deer), and then released back into the wild. Often, rehabilitated deer must be released into areas with already high deer populations.
Movement and commingling of deer increase the risks that contagious diseases, such as tuberculosis or chronic wasting disease (CWD), will be introduced into Virginia's wild deer population. In fact, detections of CWD in Frederick and Shenandoah Counties have prompted the prohibition of deer rehabilitation in Clarke, Frederick, Shenandoah, and Warren Counties. See: http://www.dgif.virginia.gov/wildlife/diseases/cwd/.
The best advice for someone who wants to help wildlife is to keep it wild. Once people interfere, we reduce the opportunity for animals to receive natural care and we increase the risk of harming our wildlife heritage. More information can be obtained on the agency's website: http://www.dgif.virginia.gov/wildlife/deer/. Among the useful resources is a revised brochure entitled "Keeping Deer Wild in Virginia."
A bear enjoyed the pirated contents of a birdfeeder. (Photo by Mary Dellenback Hill)
With a healthy black bear population, bear sightings are becoming common throughout much of Virginia.
According to a news release from the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, a highly adaptable and intelligent animal, bears can live close to people. While local residents often do not know bears are living close by, some bears may wander into residential areas due to the smell of food around homes. The most common food attractants are birdfeeders, garbage, and pet food; however, outdoor grills, livestock food, compost, fruit trees, and beehives can also attract bears.
What should you do if you see a bear?
* Enjoy and keep a respectful distance! In most cases, the bear will move on quickly.
* If a bear is up a tree on or near your property, give it space. Do not approach, and bring your pets inside to provide the bear a clear path to leave your property.
What should you do if a bear is consuming bird seed, garbage, pet food, etc. on your property?
* The best way to encourage the bear not to return is to remove the food source.
* Do not store household trash, or anything that smells like food, in vehicles, on porches or decks.
* Keep your full or empty trash containers secured in a garage, shed or basement. Take your garbage to the dump frequently. If you have a trash collection service, put your trash out the morning of the pickup, not the night before.
* Take down your birdfeeder for three or four weeks after the bear visits.
* Consider installing electric fencing, an inexpensive and extremely efficient proven deterrent to bears, around dumpsters, gardens, beehives, or other potential food sources.
* If addressed quickly, this situation can be resolved almost immediately after you remove the food source. Sometimes, the bear may return searching for food, but after a few failed attempts to find it, will leave your property.
What do I do if I see a bear cub on my property?
* Until April/May, sows with cubs are typically in dens. Most small bears people see in early spring are not actual "baby bears" but yearlings (under 12 months old). They do not need their mothers to survive.
* If a small yearling is on your property, the worst thing you can do is feed it. Yearlings need to learn how to find natural foods and not become food conditioned or habituated to humans.
* Once females leave their dens with four- to five-month-old cubs, they will typically travel in close groups unless something makes the female nervous. If you see a very small cub, do not try to remove it from the area or "save it." When sensing danger, a female bear will typically send her cub(s) up a tree and leave the area. In such cases, the female will almost always return to gather up the cub(s) when no people or pets are around, usually after dark.
Preventing problems with bears is a shared responsibility between the citizens of Virginia and the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries. Always remember that a bear is a wild animal, and that it is detrimental to the bear, as well as illegal in Virginia, to feed a bear under any circumstances. Feeding bears may cause them to lose their natural distrust of humans, creating situations where bears may become habituated and sometimes aggressive towards people. Thus, human and bear safety is the responsibility of all residents of the Commonwealth.
You can help manage the Commonwealth's black bear population and keep bears wild. Make sure your property is clear of attractants, communicate with your neighbors to resolve community bear concerns, and learn about bears, one of the most amazing intelligent wildlife species in Virginia. If you visit outdoor recreation areas in bear country, insist that the area supervisors manage their trash properly.
If you experience a bear problem after taking appropriate steps of prevention, please call the Wildlife Conflict Helpline at (855) 571-9003.
"Living with Bears in Virginia," a video produced by the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, is available on the department's website and provides tips for peacefully coexisting with bears. Please visit http://www.dgif.virginia.gov/wildlife/bear/ to view the video, print a brochure, read more about bears in Virginia, and view other useful links to bear information.
Remember, if you live in Virginia, you live in bear country. Let's work together to Keep Bears Wild!
To report wildlife crime call 1 (800) 237-5712.