August 14, 2011
Species including birds, deer and snakes are normally active this time of year but with water sources drying up many more animals are on the move and taking their young along as they search for resources. This means folks in rural as well as urban environments may find themselves coming across adolescent animals that may appear to need human kindness and a Disney song.
Gone are the spring days of wobbly fawns and baby birds just out of their shells, yet these and other animals have only grown a few months. Most are still adolescents cared for by their mothers. Young animals often stray and appear to be abandoned, and some may appear listless from the heat or lack of water. This is not the time to help out, wildlife experts say.
The fawning season begins in early to mid-May with fawns' mottled coats hiding them from predators. As fawns mature they shed these coats for a more adult color causing them to catch the eye. As drought conditions worsen across the state, animals are traveling greater distances and taking greater risks to find food and water. Because of this, many urban dwellers may spot adolescent birds, deer, armadillos, turtles and other wildlife in their daily walk to the car or office.
"Many people discover apparently lost or abandoned wildlife young and take them in, thinking they are doing the right thing, and this sometimes does more harm than good," said Mark Klym of the Wildlife Diversity branch at TPWD. "People should leave young animals alone unless they are obviously injured or orphaned. It is best to observe a wild creature from a distance for a while in order to make that determination."
Staying too close to the baby may keep mamma from returning, Klym said.
The compulsion to aid or investigate an apparently stranded little animal can be overwhelming, but in doing so you could harm its chances of rejoining its caretaker. If adopted, even for a few days, animals may lose the skills necessary to fend for themselves in the wild.
"It's true, a lot of these deer and other animals do not make it to adulthood," said Alan Cain, TPWD whitetail deer program leader. "With the natural baseline for their natural habitat threatened from drought, many does cannot produce enough milk to support her fawn."
Cain said 95-98 percent of does reproduce every year, but relatively few of these fawns make it to adulthood. He noted, however, that deer are highly reproductive animals that evolved to weather extreme droughts, and their populations can rebound quickly with the return of normal rainfall.
"It's all a part of being a wild animal, but you cut a baby's chance of survival way down if you interfere," he said.