Baby snatchers have invaded the Four Corners and the recent rash of kidnappings appears to be culturally motivated.
The loosely organized kidnapping ring is primarily made up of well-meaning people, alleging that “unfit” mothers have abandoned their children. Despite the kidnappers’ good intentions, left in their hands, the babies are terrified, fed poorly and are unable to lead normal lives.
Fortunately, the law is on the side of the mothers – in this case our auburn-haired, brown-eyed wild residents: mule deer and elk.
Local veterinarians, wildlife rehabilitators and Colorado Parks and Wildlife officers have been receiving calls from the kidnappers during the last few weeks. So, it’s time to demystify deer and elk biology and debunk a few urban legends. Hopefully, better information will prevent people from performing the cruel act of removing deer fawns and elk calves from their mothers and their natural environment.
Myth #1: Deer fawns and elk calves are often abandoned by their mothers.
Our kidnappers all found irresistible deer fawns in their neighborhoods, on trails and in backyards. Mule deer are very protective of their fawns, so it is extremely rare that does will abandon them. It is extremely important for people to understand that biological fact.
Deer and elk leave their young alone for hours while they forage for food; that also draws predators away from where the young are left. It is then that the well-intentioned baby snatchers mistakenly think they are abandoned. Often the doe is within eye- or earshot.
Myth #2: If you find a fawn, it is best to try raising it yourself.
First, the fawns are unnecessarily removed from their mothers. Doe deer and cow elk (not people) know where the most nutritious forage is and how to avoid predators. They know when to leave the high country and where to go during the winter. They know which soils offer trace minerals and which wind-swept ridges offer relief from flies.
Second, fawns need colostrum – the mother’s first milk – in order to develop the antibodies that protect them from disease and infection. Cows’ milk and milk replacers are ill-suited for a fawn’s delicate digestive system.
Third, deer quickly imprint on people. A 10-pound tame fawn is one thing. A 200-pound “tame” deer is another. Imprinted, “pet-like” deer have attacked, injured and even killed people. Tame deer may also lose their natural fear of people, predators and other dangers. But they are still wild animals.
Fourth, it is illegal to possess wildlife (unless you have a special permit). Colorado has approximately 700,000 mule deer, and more elk than any other western state or Canadian province. Those magnificent wild herds should not be endangered by wannabe do-gooders.
Myth #3: If you touch a deer fawn or an elk calf, its mother won’t take it back.
It is nonsensical that a doe would reject her fawn because a person touched it. Deer and elk are hard-wired to see their young survive. By the time they give birth, they have huge investments of nutrition, time, genetics, parental bonds, etc.
But by picking up a fawn or calf you will add a scent to the animal, making it more vulnerable to predation.
However, the fact that someone, you, a neighbor, a dog, touched a fawn is no excuse to remove it from the wild.
Kidnapped fawns should be returned as soon as possible to the area where they were found. Their mothers will be nearby.
So, what should you do if you find a fawn?
Leave it alone. You can watch the fawn from a distance or return to check on it several hours (eight hours) later. Do not attempt to feed fawns.
Keep dogs under control. Occasionally, deer leave fawns in back yards, even on decks. If that is the case, please keep dogs inside.
Sometimes, but rarely, fawns are abandoned. If you find fawns that you believe are abandoned, do not kidnap them, call Colorado Parks and Wildlife. We’ll ask questions, assess the situation and advise on next steps.
Colorado’s mule deer and elk are symbols of the American West and they have been raising fawns and calves in Colorado for thousands of years. Please, honor their instincts, biology and abilities to raise their young.
In other words, if you ain’t no doe, you don’t need no fawn!
Patt Dorsey is the area wildlife manager in Durango for Colorado Parks and Wildlife. Reach her at 247-0855.