Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine

Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine

A fawn, a warden and a young girl © Susan Palm

DNR Conservation Warden Scott Thiede and Maria Palm worked together to keep these fawns in their natural home and near their mother.
© Susan Palm

June 2014

The fawn, the newborn and the warden

A lesson in keeping wildlife wild.

Joanne M. Haas

A mother's urgent call for advice ended with a caravan of action after a DNR conservation warden and a neighbor's newborn together helped show the way to an Eau Claire girl who only wanted to share her good life with a fawn.

Warden Scott Thiede was talking with an angler when Susan Palm called. It seems her big–hearted grade school–aged daughter had just arrived home — with a fawn.

It was 5:35 p.m. on a Sunday last spring.

"What should we do?" the mother asked. The fawn was about to become Fido in her daughter's master plan to help an animal she saw as being without a mom and a home — two things daughter Maria wanted to share.

The innocent helping the innocent: A kid helping another kid — in this case, a four–hoofed kid. What could be so wrong when the intention is so good?

That was what Warden Thiede was going to have to explain as he started up the truck to drive to the Palm home.

"My thoughts were about the emotions associated with these types of baby animal calls," Thiede recalls. "She (Palm) had taken the time to make the call, as do other callers in these types of cases because they have genuine concerns about the well–being of the animals."

Callers often use terms like "mother," "baby" and "family" to explain the situation, Thiede says. "These concerns are real, so the warden must be sensitive to the feelings of the people involved in the animal encounter. Wardens and wildlife biologists deal with a lot of animal calls. But for the caller, this might be the first time they have had a close encounter with wildlife."

Thiede was invited to the Palm's home. There, he found a living room full of people. All eyes turned to the man in the uniform, as the room's conversations lulled. The spotted fawn stood in the center of the room in front of Susan and her daughter — both had red eyes. It felt like a wake.

Then, Thiede spotted a neighbor woman seated with others in the crowded living room. She was holding an infant that looked to be only a few months old. And with that, Thiede's lesson plan for Maria started to gel in his head.

Baby racoons © Herbert Lange
It is normal for nocturnal animals such as raccoons to be seen during the day when they have young. They may be looking for food.
© Herbert Lange

Palm told Thiede and the guests in her living room that her daughter had seen two fawns in a fenced prairie outside Flynn Elementary School on May 31. Her daughter had been checking on them and playing with them, but she never saw the doe in the area. So, her daughter decided to bring them home. But on this particular Sunday, her daughter could only catch one fawn.

Thiede told the group he had no doubt of any kind the intentions that led to this fawn standing in this residential neighborhood living room were good. But… and the group seemed to know this was coming.

"The fawn is a wild animal that would be better off being cared for by its mother," Thiede said, and he turned to the neighbor woman holding the infant on her lap. "This fawn is not a human baby. The fawn has care and diet needs that only its mother deer can provide."

The food a human baby needs and gets from its mother is not the same food a fawn needs, Thiede said as he looked toward the newborn, the fawn and Maria. Providing human food to a wild animal may make it sick or possibly cause its death.

"A human baby would not do well feeding on the unique and species–specific food, such as grasses and other items animals depend upon for their health and to live their lives," Thiede said.

Thiede went on to explain that licensed wildlife rehabilitators provide care to injured or orphaned animals in some situations, but he surmised this fawn was neither injured nor orphaned.

"A doe will leave her fawns hidden to protect them from other animals. And the fawns know just what to do while she's away — lie still and keep quiet," Thiede told the group. "But the doe returns to care for her fawns when people are not in the area. The fact that this fawn appears healthy tells us it was not abandoned — or on its own."

Maria and the other kids in the room listened and had no questions. Susan asked about the chances of taking the fawn to a wildlife rehabilitator.

"We have no deer rehabilitators in the area," Thiede said. "The closest wildlife rehabilitator that would take a fawn is in Rhinelander."

The reality of the situation sunk in. Everyone knew the right thing to do: return the fawn to the grassy field outside Flynn Elementary.

And with that, it was time to leave the Palm home and return the fawn to its wild home. Thiede got in his warden truck and followed the family's vehicle to Flynn Elementary School. Once near the school, they spotted the second fawn in the grass.

"Someone had placed a wooden box with grass bedding and a dish of water there…again, people have the desire to do something, but they don't know what to do. Their actions often make the situation worse," Thiede recalls.

Given all the attention the fawns were receiving, it was decided to move the deer to a nearby location outside of the fenced enclosure.

Together, the warden and the Palms worked to get both fawns relocated and help keep the fawns and doe together as a family.

Conservation Warden Pete Dunn, who specializes in captive wildlife cases, says often it is a case of people assuming what works for humans — especially human babies — is the remedy for animal babies. "We've handled cases where some good intentions have led to a wild animal dying because of the wrong care. Or, someone may put out food thinking they are helping, and the animal's digestive system simply is not equipped to handle that type of food and it gets sick or dies."

Dunn echoes Thiede's recommendation to work with wildlife rehabilitators.

"They are DNR partners in the goal to help and to protect wildlife," Dunn says. "The problem is there simply are not enough rehabilitators to handle the demand for their help. But, if people would think twice about intervening in a wild animal's existence, the rehabilitator's involvement would be limited to only those animals that are injured or sick and truly in need of their expert care — and not those wrongly removed from their natural homes because someone didn't understand how that wild animal lives."

"We humans are occasionally placed in the front row to observe this natural process in action. Some situations may work out as we want and the wild animal survives, or sometimes the ending is not what we would have preferred," Thiede says. "But if we interfere in the day–to–day activities of wildlife, we must understand our desire to help may do more harm than good. Please leave wild animals to live the life of a wild animal."

Thiede's message reached the Palm family that Sunday in their living room where a human infant's presence taught the real lesson.

A few days after that meeting, Susan Palm sent Thiede a note thanking him for taking the time to come to their home and discuss the fawn situation.

"The kids learned a lot that day ­— as did I," she wrote.

Joanne M. Haas is a DNR public affairs manager and Keep Wildlife Wild team member.

Keep Wildlife Wild: Three words, one big meaning

Wild animals are meant to stay in the wild.
Every species is equipped with their own adaptations that allow them to survive and thrive in the wild. For deer, the best way a doe can protect her fawn is to leave it camouflaged in vegetation, lying still and motionless and only visiting a few times a day to feed it. For cottontail rabbits, the best way a mother can protect her young is to leave them concealed in a nest of tall grass and only visit a few times a day to feed them. For some birds, the mother will "fake" a wing injury to draw predators away from her young, which are hiding close by.

If you find a wild baby animal and are not sure if it needs help, the best thing to do is leave it alone and call a licensed wildlife rehabilitator or the Department of Natural Resources. They can help assess the situation and determine if the wild baby animal is truly orphaned or if it is demonstrating natural instinct behaviors.

Wild animals have complex nutritional, physical, mental and social needs not easily replicated in captivity. Here are some reasons why citizens should not attempt to raise wild animals:

Wild animals do not exhibit stress in the same way that people or domestic animals do so you may not realize you are frightening to a wild animal. Wild animals view people as predators and the mere presence of people close by can be distressing.

Wild animals have specialized dietary needs not easily met in captivity. Wild baby animals especially require a specific, complete diet. Otherwise, they are at a high risk of suffering serious nutritional deficiencies such as metabolic bone disease.

Wild animals need to learn normal social behaviors from their own species. Young wild animals that learn abnormal behaviors from humans or domestic animals likely will not survive if released into the environment because they have not learned the behaviors necessary to live, they have lost their natural fear of humans and predators and they may be habituated to human activity. When young animals reach maturity, their demeanor can change toward a more aggressive behavior that can be dangerous for humans and domestic animals.

Wild animals carry many different diseases and parasites, some of which are transmissible to domestic animals and even humans. Keeping a wild animal in captivity increases the chance of spreading or contracting a disease or parasite, which can cause serious health issues. Conversely, domestic animals and humans may also expose wild animals to other diseases and parasites that can have negative health effects on them.

Regulations do not allow unauthorized or unlicensed citizens to possess wild animals in captivity. Most wild animals are protected under state and federal laws and cannot be taken from the wild or possessed by unauthorized citizens. Wisconsin’s captive wildlife regulations allow a citizen to possess a wild animal for up to 24 hours for the sole purpose of transferring that animal to an appropriately licensed individual, such as a licensed wildlife rehabilitator or veterinarian.

Remember, you can contact a licensed wildlife rehabilitator or the Department of Natural Resources to help determine if an animal is in need of assistance. The DNR Call Center, 1-888-936-7463 (1-888-WDNR-INFo) can provide information or even direct you to a nearby licensed wildlife rehabilitator who might be able to help visit Wildlife rehabilitation directory. For tips on determining if a wild animal is truly orphaned go to http://dnr.wi.gov/topic/wildlifehabitat/orphan.html.

Together, we can all help Keep Wildlife Wild.

Mandy Kamps is a DNR wildlife rehabilitation program manager and member of the Keep Wildlife Wild team.