Spring and early summer are times of rebirth and renewal for Colorado’s wildlife. Longer days and warmer temperatures set the stage for the arrival of newborn deer, elk, pronghorn and other species. While this can be an exciting time to view wildlife, the Colorado Division of Wildlife would like to remind people never to approach, relocate or handle any newborn wild animals.
“Every spring, the Division of Wildlife receives numerous calls from good Samaritans, who, with the best of intentions, have ‘rescued’ a young animal that they believed to be abandoned or orphaned,” said Sabrina Schnelker, a district wildlife manager in El Paso County. “In almost every scenario, this is simply not the case, and people don’t realize that they are, in fact, endangering the lives of these animals by interfering with their natural adaptation.”
During June and early July, it is common to see young animals alone in the forest, in backyards, near hiking trails or along the sides of roads. In most cases, these animals have not been abandoned. Usually, they were left there on purpose by their mother.
“People are under the impression that a newborn elk calf or deer fawn is with its mother at all times,” said Joe Nicholson, Rangely-North district wildlife manager. “The mother may wander a short distance away to feed or drink. This is perfectly normal and is not abandonment. Unfortunately, when people find a young animal, they often get too close or remain in the area long enough to deter the mother from returning, particularly if the fawn or calf is touched or the area around it receives heavy human traffic.”
Newborn deer fawns and elk calves are naturally well-equipped to elude predators and survive when left alone. For the first several days after birth, they instinctively freeze and will lie motionless when approached. Their spotted coat and lack of scent provides a natural camouflage, which allows them to hide in their surroundings.
“If you find a newborn animal and don’t see any signs of the mother, it is always best to leave it where it is,” said Schnelker. “Even if you know the animal is injured or has truly been abandoned because the mother has been killed, the best thing you can do is mark the spot, then contact the Division of Wildlife. A wildlife officer can come out and check on the animal without endangering its chance for survival.”
Once an animal is removed from its natural environment, the chances of survival and successful reintroduction into the wild are greatly diminished. While some can be rehabilitated, many young animals will bond with human rehabilitators or other captive animals at the rehabilitation facility. This bonding process generally makes it extremely difficult and dangerous to return the animals to the wild.
“People also need to realize that not all young-of-the-year animals will survive,” said Nicholson. “Mortality is part of the natural cycle.”
When in doubt, wildlife experts offer this simple mantra: “If you care, leave it there.”