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Orphan Fawns, Domestic Deer, and What to Do

“Hey babe, come check this out,” my wife said from the backyard.

When I got closer to it, I saw a small spotted creature with huge ears. The size of a medium-sized dog, but perched on spindly legs, I gazed into the eyes of the fawn peeking over the edge of the property.

“Hmm,” I said, “Little fawn. Cute little fella.”

My wife, ever ready to take in a stray and have to walk past the tailgaters with free puppies at Wal-Mart, looked at me with the same eyes the fawn had. “Looks lost! Can we keep it?”

I took a sip of my coffee and went back to the kitchen, “he’s fine. He’s not lost, just wandering around.”

She was heartbroken and asked how she could tell with just one look.

Well, here it goes.

Identify an orphaned fawn

White-tailed deer, like those found in abundance throughout Mississippi, are in heat in the fall and winter, leading to the birth of thousands of cute little deer from late April to mid-July of the following year. At birth, these fawns will have a more reddish coat than their parents, and will be covered in hundreds of tiny white spots. These spots help the fawn blend in with the myriad blooming wildflowers and weeds in the spring and summer when it hatches. As an added protection from good Mother Nature, fawns don’t have any shipping to keep predators from sniffing them out. As such, the mothers of these lactating fawns try to stay away from their young as much as possible so as not to erase their own scent. In October, young fawns typically lose their spots and are now foraging rather than nursing, on their way to adulthood.

With this in mind, if you see a spotted fawn in the spring and summer, chances are it’s not with its mother right next door. Mom is most likely hiding in a nearby bush while the kids explore the world. Alternatively, Mom may have left Junior behind so she can go get some food, since she still eats for two.

One of the best signs to see if a fawn is orphaned and distressed is if it is dehydrated. A dehydrated baby deer is a deer that is unable to nurse for some reason. Maybe mom is dead, or maybe she is sick and doesn’t produce milk. Whatever the case, these dehydrated fawns can be easily identified by the position of their ears. A dehydrated fawn will have its wide ears folded back at the tips or, in later stages, it will collapse and become unresponsive to stimulation. If a fawn has nice, narrow ears and walks, it’s most likely not an orphan. Let it be. Mom will be very attentive to human scents on her baby and she may not want anything to do with it if you try to play cuddle with the fawn. Worse yet, if she takes the fawn away, the doe’s milk will begin to dry up in as little as 24 hours.

As the old say, “the ears are straight, the fawn is cool. The ears are curled – it is unique in the world.”

What to do if you find one?

So you have an orphaned deer on your hands. Your baby is sick, his ears are crooked and he is just pathetic. You’ve watched the fawn for hours and it hasn’t moved or a mother has come to take care of it. As confirmation, you may have even found a lactating doe killed by a car a few blocks away. What are you doing now?

The best and most correct answer is to find a local wildlife rehabilitation group that can take the animal. While they don’t advertise due to lack of funding, these little-known wildlife heroes are state or federally licensed wildlife rehabilitators, keepers or veterinarians located throughout the state. A good resource for finding one locally is MS Wild Life Rehab.org. If you fall short, call your local conservation office as soon as possible.

Until the animal can be picked up or taken to a rehabilitation center, keep it warm and dry and do not attempt to feed it anything other than plain water.

Can you keep it like a fart?

The simple answer is no. Now reread that award if you have questions. In Mississippi, it is illegal to keep a deer as a pet. If you are caught with one, you are facing at least a class 3 offense, and could face a fine of up to $1000 (plus fees) and/or up to 6 months in jail. It is also illegal to import white-tailed deer into Mississippi. This is for the good of the animal.

Wild animals kept as pets are no longer wild, but they are never really pets. Once steps down that path are taken, the animal finds itself in a strange catch-22 situation. It can never be released into the wild because it has become so dependent on humans that it can never learn to care for itself properly. However, it cannot be vaccinated or cared for enough to be anything other than an easy target for passing poachers.

Pet deer were recently banned in Arkansas. In neighboring Tennessee, it has long been illegal to keep wild deer as pets.

So remember all this when your wife calls you to the deck with doe eyes.

I need to get that woman a dog.

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September 22, 2022