It’s hard to resist a cute baby animal.
And when hikers or homeowners see those fuzzy little critters — apparently alone, and obviously in need of human help — they often do the worst thing possible.
Maine game warden Kris MacCabe has some first-hand knowledge on the matter. Back in 2012, I shared photos taken by his wife of the “North Woods Law” star feeding a baby deer with a bottle. The photos? Cute as they get.
Take a good look at the photo. Beautiful? Heartwarming? Absolutely.
Almost makes you want to head into the woods to find a baby deer (or raccoon, or bear) to raise as your own, doesn’t it.
Now, consider this: The deer died.
Despite MacCabe’s best efforts, he is not a mother deer. And if that fawn had been with its mother, it would have had better odds of survival.
Unfortunately, that deer had been “rescued” by a western Maine resident who thought it had been abandoned, then delivered it to MacCabe’s doorstep.
In doing so, the well-meaning passer-by sealed the deer’s fate.
Harsh, but true.
Earlier this week, the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife sent out a press release that has become a spring tradition. It’s even got a cool tagline that’s easy to remember: “If you care, leave them there.”
The DIF&W points out that there are all kinds of baby animals in Maine’s woods trying to figure things out during their first spring. Among the animals we might see: Baby deer, moose calves, young robins and raccoons.
Judy Camuso, the DIF&W’s wildlife division director, said humans sometimes misinterpret what they’re seeing in the woods or in their backyards, and take action that is unnecessary.
“Too often people see a young animal alone and assume it has been abandoned by its mother, when in fact the mother has likely just left temporarily to search for food,” Camuso said in the release. “In most cases, it’s best to leave the animal alone because wildlife has a much better chance at survival when [it isn’t] disrupted by humans.”
The department also cautions people who come across a young bird or animal to make sure their pets remain inside or on a leash so they don’t disturb the animals.
There are other situations that may crop up, of course. Perhaps an adult female deer is hit by a car and dies on the side of the road, leaving a fawn or two nearby. In cases like that, the basic message doesn’t change: Leave the young animals alone. But the follow-up message does: Call a DIF&W regional biologist or game warden and tell them what’s going on.
By species, here are some handy tips and explanations that wildlife-watchers may find helpful:
Deer: “It is always best to leave fawns alone,” the department wrote. “The nutrient profile of a mother’s milk enables fawns to be left for many hours as mothers feed on their own to help maintain the high energy demands of nursing the fawn. Adult does will return two or three times a day to nurse fawns, but otherwise leave them in a safe place and rely on the fawn’s camouflage and lack of scent to protect them from predators … repeated visits to a fawn [by humans] can draw the attention of predators and could discourage its mother from returning. Under no circumstances should anyone attempt to feed a fawn.”
Moose: “Treat moose calves similar to fawns, but also be aware that approaching or handling a moose calf is likely to elicit a defensive response from a mother moose, if it is nearby,” the department said.
Squirrels or raccoons: “If a nest of squirrels or raccoons must be disturbed (for example, if a tree has been cut down or fallen), leave the young in the den part of the tree and move them nearby to a protected place,” the release said. “The mother will in all likelihood come back and transport them to a new location.”
Birds: “The same is true for a bird’s nest. Put the nest and nestlings into a nearby tree, supported in a basket or other container that has drainage,” the department wrote. “The mother robin or blue jay is probably right around the corner, and will return to feed the young and care for them until they can fly on their own.”