When Leaving Orphan Fawns to Die is the Right Thing to Do

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This has been a regular problem since Tennessee’s new policies went into place, which completely ban the rehabilitation of deer to prevent the spread of chronic wasting disease. The finders often tell us that they can’t just leave a baby animal alone to die.

We get it, truly. We know it’s hard. It goes against every instinct, every feeling, that every compassionate human being has. Most of the time, a fawn who appears orphaned has a mother who will soon return. But what should you do when you see a fawn desperately crying next to his mother’s dead body? Surely it’s never right to just walk away from a helpless baby in need?

We know it’s hard to believe, but leaving the baby alone really is the right thing. When proper rehabilitation is not an option, being left alone is the best option and provides the best outcome for the baby.

Deer are some of the most common natural adoptive parents in nature. A nursing doe will routinely hear the cries of a hungry baby and take the little one in as her own. Among deer, adoption is a very normal outcome for an orphan fawn, so leaving the baby where it is will likely result in the little one growing up safe, healthy, and wild with another member of the herd. Since deer are highly social animals who live in large herds, there are almost certainly nursing does nearby who will help a fawn in need if you leave it alone.

There is a possibility that the fawn may not get adopted, but this is not always a terrible outcome. Deer are very prolific animals and nature only intends for about one third of them to survive to adulthood (even fewer in areas with well-balanced ecosystems and plenty of native predators). When there is too much interference in those natural processes, they can become overpopulated, leading to mass starvation, disease outbreaks, and conflicts with humans.

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During the time of year when fawns are most likely to be found, many other animals are raising their own young. Coyotes, foxes, opossums, skunks, bobcats, vultures, and raccoons all need to be able to scavenge the meats of wild animals in order to make it through this very busy time of year and keep their young fed. While a fawn’s death is sad, it’s also part of how other animals survive.

If you still can’t handle the possibility of the fawn’s death, please consider that, when rehabilitators are not a possibility, being raised in captivity can be a fate worse than death. Fawns are extremely stressed in a captive environment without other deer. They’re likely to become so scared that they will waste away and eventually die of capture myopathy (heart failure caused by the stress of captivity).

If they survive, they will imprint on humans and will never be able to live with wild herds. They will live their lives in confusion, too wild to truly be pets and too tame to truly be wild. During rut, they will target humans either as mates or competition, leading to serious injury or even death for the humans. (Just a couple of years ago, a woman was nearly killed by a neighbor’s pet deer here in Tennessee.) Is that a chance you would take for your family?

We don’t want to turn away baby animals in need, or ask you so do so, but please: if you find a fawn in Tennessee, leave it alone.

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Ethan Smith is a seasoned marine veteran, professional blogger, witty and edgy writer, and an avid hunter. He spent a great deal of his childhood years around the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest in Arizona. Watching active hunters practise their craft initiated him into the world of hunting and rubrics of outdoor life. He also honed his writing skills by sharing his outdoor experiences with fellow schoolmates through their high school’s magazine. Further along the way, the US Marine Corps got wind of his excellent combination of skills and sought to put them into good use by employing him as a combat correspondent. He now shares his income from this prestigious job with his wife and one kid. Read more >>