DWR Press Release
If you hike in an area where deer live in Utah, don’t be surprised if you come across a deer fawn, or maybe even an elk calf, in early summer.
If you find a baby animal, what should you do?
The answer is simple: leave it right where you found it. Don’t approach it, don’t touch it, and, by all means, don’t pick it up and bring it home.
You may not realize it, but if you pick a baby animal up, you’ve just removed it from its mother. And, if you approach a fawn and cause the animal to run, it will be difficult for its mother to find it.
Don’t touch or move it
If you find a baby animal in the wild, Justin Shannon, Wildlife Section chief for the Division of Wildlife Resources, says you probably won’t see its mother. Not seeing its mother might lead you to believe that the animal has been abandoned. But that’s rarely the case.
“Actually,” Shannon says, “deer fawns are alone and isolated during their first weeks of life. And that’s on purpose. The mother knows leaving the fawn alone is the best way to protect it from predators.”
Shannon says newborn big game animals fall into two categories: followers and hiders.
Followers include bison calves and bighorn sheep lambs, which follow their mothers shortly after they’re born. Hiders, such as mule deer fawns and elk calves, do the opposite — they hide, alone, for most of the day.
During the day, a doe deer will reunite with its fawn for a short time, to nurse it and care for it. Then, to draw attention away from where the fawn is hiding, the mother will leave the fawn. The doe will spend the rest of the day feeding and resting.
Brock McMillan, professor at Brigham Young University, has researched deer fawns in Utah for years. He says hiding its fawn is the best way for the doe to protect it from predators. Fawns are born with a creamy brown coat that’s covered with white spots. This camouflaged coat allows the fawn to blend in with its surroundings.
“Also, fawns don’t give off much scent,” McMillan says, “so it’s difficult for predators to smell them. Hiding the fawn is the best way to keep the animal safe.”
After two or three weeks, the fawn grows strong enough to start accompanying its mother.
Do the right thing
So what should you do if you see a deer fawn or an elk calf in the woods, or even on the outskirts of town?
“Don’t approach it,” Shannon says. “Watch it or take a photo of it from a distance, but don’t approach it. In almost every case, the fawn has not been abandoned by its mother.”
Finding and petting newly born animals is another problem. “The animal’s survival depends on it being left alone,” McMillan says.
Even if you don’t touch the fawn, getting too close can cause the fawn to run away from you — and from its hiding place where its mother left it. When the mother comes back to care for the fawn, it won’t be there.
“Keeping your distance and not touching animals are the keys to keeping young animals alive,” McMillan says.
Learn how to live with wildlife
You can get more tips about living with wildlife from Wild Aware Utah.