Baby deer, elk need to be left alone to survive

Encountering an elk calf or fawn deer can be an exciting experience but also one that could affect the survival of the animal. Wildlife officials say the best course is to stay away and don’t touch the animal.

With early summerlike temperatures driving people into the high country, it’s not surprising wildlife officers are hearing more reports of people encountering a deer fawn or an elk calf.

Should you find a fawn or elk calf, “the best thing to do is to leave it right where you found it,” said Ron Stewart, a regional conservation outreach manager for the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources,

Each year, Colorado Parks and Wildlife warns people that “rescuing” what appears to be an abandoned animal is the worst thing possible.

“A human baby that has been abandoned is a crisis that needs immediate attention, but this is not the case with baby animals,” said Trina Romero, Watchable Wildlife and Volunteer Coordinator for Parks and Wildlife. “In fact, the instinct that leads a female animal to leave its offspring alone at times is a natural method of protection. The last thing it needs is human intervention.”

Stewart said deer and elk use several techniques to help their young avoid predators.

For example, Stewart said deer fawns learn to walk soon after they’re born.

“But they aren’t very coordinated,” he said, “and they aren’t strong enough to run away from predators. So, evolution has added a few safety measures.”

Most of the animals that prey on fawns have a good sense of smell but can see only in black and white.

“Deer fawns are born scentless,” Stewart said.  “They don’t have an odor, and predators can’t smell them.

“Add a few spots to their coats,” he said, “and they’re well camouflaged.”

The fawn’s mother will usually move away from the fawn to feed and rest, but she will remain reasonably close by.

“If she senses danger, such as a human,” Stewart said, “she will leave the area in hopes of luring the ‘predator’ away from her fawn.”

Since the doe has left the area, many people think the fawn has been abandoned and they pick it up.

“That’s the worst thing you can do,” he said. “Without knowing it, you’ve just taken a fawn away from its mother.”

“People who pick up animals risk injuring the animal or making it too comfortable with humans to be returned to the wild,” added Romero. “By leaving the animal alone and reporting its location to the Parks and Wildlife, our trained personnel or volunteers can respond and make the determination about what is best for the animal.”

She said many orphaned animals end up with licensed wildlife rehabilitators trained to make sure the animal can be reintroduced to the wild.

Stewart said that if you see a young animal, keep your distance.

“If you get too close, the scent you leave could draw a predator to the animal,” he said.

Stewart said numerous studies have shown predators will follow human tracks.

“I’ve watched coyotes and other predators cross a path that someone just walked and immediately turn and follow their path,” he said. “I don’t know if the predators are curious or if they’ve learned that humans can lead them to food. But if you’ve just gotten close to a fawn, you’ll lead the predator right to it.”

Finding and petting newly born animals is another problem.

“The animal’s survival depends on it staying scentless,” Stewart said. “If you touch the animal, you’ve placed your scent on it. That will make it easier for a predator to find it.”


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