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May 1, 2014
For “Orphaned” Wildlife, Less May Mean More
AUSTIN— As wildlife become active this time of year, many animals are on the move and taking their young as they search for resources. People in rural and urban environments may find themselves coming across adolescent animals that appear to need human kindness but sometimes the less human interaction the babies get, the better.
Gone are the spring days of wobbly fawns and baby birds just out of their shells, yet these and other animals are still only a few months old. Most are adolescents being cared for by their mothers and these young animals often stray and appear to be abandoned. Some may appear listless from the heat or lack of water. This is not the time to help out, wildlife experts say.
“Many people discover apparently lost or abandoned wildlife young and take them in, thinking they are doing the right thing, and this sometimes does more harm than good,” said Mark Klym of the Wildlife Diversity branch at the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. “People should leave young animals alone unless they are obviously injured or orphaned. It is best to observe a wild creature from a distance for a while in order to make that determination.”
Staying too close to the baby may keep the mother from returning, Klym said.
The fawning season begins in early to mid-May with fawns’ mottled coats hiding them from predators. As fawns mature they shed these coats for a more adult color, they can catch the eye of a predator. As drought conditions worsen across the state, animals are traveling greater distances and taking greater risks to find food and water. Many urban dwellers may spot adolescent birds, deer, armadillos, turtles and other wildlife in their daily walk to the car or office.
The compulsion to help or investigate an animal that looks abandoned can be overwhelming, but interference could harm its chances of rejoining its caretaker. If adopted, even for a few days, animals may lose the skills necessary to fend for themselves in the wild.
“It’s true, a lot of these deer and other animals do not make it to adulthood,” said Alan Cain, the Whitetail Deer Program Leader at TPWD. “With the natural baseline for their natural habitat threatened from drought, many does cannot produce enough milk to support her fawn.”
Cain said 95-98 percent of does reproduce every year, but relatively few of these fawns make it to adulthood. He noted, however, that deer are highly reproductive animals that evolved to weather extreme droughts, and their populations can rebound quickly with the return of normal rainfall.
“It’s all a part of being a wild animal, but you cut a baby’s chance of survival way down if you interfere,” he said.
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