CDFW Reminds the Public to Leave Young Wildlife Alone

Media Contacts:
Nicole Carion, CDFW Wildlife Biologist, (530) 357-3986
Carol Singleton, CDFW Communications, (916) 322-8962

A fawn waits in the grass for its mother to return.
A fawn waits in the grass for its mother to return. Photo by Tony Attanasio

Spring is a busy time of year for wildlife. Bears, deer, birds and bobcats as well as dozens of other species emerge from winter ready to fill their bellies and raise their young. Because of this increase in wildlife activity, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) reminds people to leave young wildlife alone if they come across them. The improper handling of young wildlife is a problem in California and across the nation, especially in spring.

“Many people don’t realize that it is illegal to keep California native wildlife as pets,” said Nicole Carion, CDFW’s statewide coordinator for wildlife rehabilitation. “Never assume when you see young wildlife alone that they need assistance. Possibly, their mother is simply out foraging for food. If you care, leave them there.”

Healthy fawns may lay or stand quietly by themselves in one location for hours while their mother is away feeding. Once a fawn is removed from its mother, it can lose the ability to survive in the wild. The same danger applies to most animals, including bears, coyotes, raccoons and most birds.

The state’s rehabilitation facilities receive an average of around 400-500 fawns per year from well-meaning members of the public. Many of these fawns were healthy and in no danger, and should not have been disturbed. People can call a rehabilitator, who will determine whether there is a need for a rescue. Rehabilitators are trained to provide care for wild animals so they retain their natural fear of humans and do not become habituated or imprinted.

Dave Cook, a rehabilitator with Sierra Wildlife Rescue in El Dorado County, says his organization receives about 60 fawns a year, mainly between June and July, from people who believe the animals have been orphaned or injured.

“When people call me and say they have an orphaned fawn, I first tell them to monitor it from a distance,” Cook explained. “If it’s crying plaintively that’s a bad sign. If its coat is ungroomed, that’s another sign that it may be an orphan. As a last resort, I ask them to look at its butt. If the butt is clean, it’s likely not an orphan because a doe will meticulously clean the fawn’s bottom after it feeds.”

Cook estimates that over 50 percent of fawns that people report as orphaned are actually not orphans at all. “They look so small and defenseless, almost like someone stepped on them, but this is actually a defense mechanism. They flatten themselves out so that predators won’t detect them,” he said.

Cook explained that fawns can also “play opossum,” going completely limp when someone tries to pick them up. This happened to a family who found a fawn near the American River in Carmichael a few years back. When they picked it up, it went limp and they assumed the fawn had four broken legs, so they took it home and called Sierra Wildlife Rescue. Cook arrived at the home and evaluated the animal, which jumped up and began running around the family room, apparently in perfect health. Fortunately, he was able to return the animal to where it was found and reunite it with its mother. But not all fawns are so lucky.

“I almost always advise that people leave the fawn alone,” he said, “or at least call a wildlife rehabber before intervening. They can help evaluate the situation over the phone or will come out in person to help.”

It’s also important to remember that wild animals carry ticks, fleas and lice, and they can transmit diseases to humans, including rabies and tularemia, so it is best to leave the responsibility for intervention to CDFW personnel or permitted wildlife rehabilitators. In addition, it is illegal to keep orphaned or injured animals for more than 48 hours in California.

To learn more about how to live responsibly with wildlife, including the importance of keeping food and garbage secured and not feeding wild animals, please visit CDFW’s Keep Me Wild website at www.keepmewild.org. For more information on wildlife rehabilitation, please visit www.dfg.ca.gov/wildlife/rehab/facilities.html.

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