School is out, grass is growing and wild animals are giving birth.
It’s spring in Borderland, and with it comes concerns about wild young that have prompted Minnesota Department of Natural Resources conservation officers to warn people against interfering in what comes natural.
Intervening in nature, they said, could lead to the death of the animal someone is trying to save.
For example, you come across a tiny spotted fawn laying at the foot of a pine tree. It’s there all day and you’re getting worried.
Has the little one been abandoned by its mother? Has its mother been killed?
Not likely, said Conservation Officers Darrin Kittelson and John Slatinski.
Instead, the doe and fawn are doing what comes naturally: Fawns, born in late May into early June, have little smell. When does need to eat, they instruct the fawn to lay down and stay where it is until she returns.
What’s not natural, however, is the human factor: Humans often want to save wild animals that appear to be suffering.
Key word is appear. Many times, people interfere with nature when they think an animal appears abandoned, or suffering, when it is not.
The conservation officers say they’ve had several calls from people who believe fawns, and other young animals, have been abandoned.
“Leave them where they’re at,” Kittelson said of “found” fawns or other young animals. “Walk away.”
He said the only circumstance that should involve people is if someone has seen the dead doe, such as in a vehicle collision that kills the doe.
“Then we would respond,” he said. “We’d take the fawn to a rehab(ilitation center).”
And while nature may seem cruel, Kittelson points to “The Lion King” and the circle of life.
This year, he said the COs are hearing of more fawns in the city limits, which may be caused by people feeding deer, intentionally or unintentional, while feeding birds.
He said people picked up a fawn near Rainy River in the city, because they’d found a dead deer nearby. The COs checked it out and found the deer had been dead for some time, and could not be the mother of the fawn.
“We put it in the woods, and went back the next day,” Kittelson said. “The fawn was gone, and we’re thinking mom came back.”
What to do?
Again, Kittelson stresses the right reaction to young animals: “Run. Don’t even approach.”
He asked that people not be tempted to come close for a photo of the really cute baby critters because at times, the fawn or other youngster may try to come to you believing you to be the mother, called imprinting.
“They don’t know fear until mom trains them more,” he said. “As they get older, they become more fearful.”
It’s even more important to avoid bear cubs, Slatinski and Kittelson said, adding mom bears are very protective.
“Mom doesn’t typically leave the cubs alone; she may wander off, but will be within sight or vocal communication,” Kittelson said.
An incident near Rainy Lake and the Tilson Bay Bog Walk has been called an attack in other media outlets, he noted.
“It sounded more like a mom maybe bluffing because a person got between the cubs and mom,” he said.
People should always be making some sound to avoid confronting animals while in the woods, he said, but should someone become aware they are between mom and cubs, he offered this advice:
“Make yourself as big as possible, make lots of noise, wave your arms. They may charge, but most of the time it’s a bluff. Back out relatively slowly whatever direction. But don’t head toward the cubs. Make sure the mom and cubs have a direct path to one another.”
The same idea applies to wolves and raccoon, he said.
He said even taking pictures can “open the door to the potential for interaction,” pointing to a report of a fox with kits.
And interaction with humans is often a recipe for death for wild animals.
“Sometimes when people think they’re doing good, like picking them up or starting to feed them, they get to the point they may not survive because of that,” said Slatinski.
He pointed to an incident last year when someone kept a fawn — illegal unless you are licensed — for three weeks before the COs found out about it.
“They said they’d never be able to be released back into the wild,” he said of the advice from the rehabilitation specialist, who is licensed to take care of specific wild animals.
In addition, the COs noted they’ve had calls about young eagles on the ground when wind has blown down the tree where their nest was located, or have even just fallen out of the nest as a parent instructs it how to fly.
“Avoid them,” Slatinski said. “Even if they’re on the ground, mom or dad will take care of them.”