ARKANSAS, USA — Both the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission (AGFC) and the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation (ODWC) are asking people who come across baby animals in the wild this spring to leave them as they are, explaining the young animals may look abandoned, but usually are not.
The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission (AGF) said it receives calls regularly from well-meaning Arkansansans with reports of abandoned young wildlife in the spring.
The ODWC wrote, "Each spring, well-meaning people 'rescue' newborn and young animals that might appear to be abandoned at first glance, but biologists say it is best to resist the urge because adult animals are likely nearby."
Moving these animals can actually cause more harm than good.
Young wildlife can appear helpless, but this is how some species have learned to survive. A doe deer is usually within hearing distance of her young, even though she isn't seen, because the more trips she makes to her young, the more scent trails she leaves behind for predators to follow.
"Most wildlife parents cannot be with their young nonstop. They must search out food for their offspring or gain much-needed nutrition to continue nursing them," the AGFC wrote. "It’s not uncommon for a doe deer or rabbit to leave her young alone nearly all day while they rest up and recuperate from the stress of nursing. Mother and father birds also take many trips scouring the nearby area for food they will bring back to the hatchlings."
Staying motionless and quiet to blend into their surroundings without attracting unwanted attention is the best defense for fawns and rabbit kits.
Moving baby wildlife works against this plan.
When baby birds are almost ready to fly, they hop around in the tree branches and often end up on the ground a few times as they practice, but parent birds will continue to feed them on the ground until they fly off on their own.
Wildlife rehabilitation experts often are overwhelmed by kidnapped young owls and other birds mistakenly 'rescued' by well-meaning people who had no idea how to help.
The AGFC said if you do move a baby found in the wild due to a nearby road or spotted predator, you can move the animal slightly, and the mother will come back and find it. The best practice is to leave young wildlife where you find it.
"Forget the wive’s tales about the mother rejecting the young because of your scent," the AGFC wrote. "When she comes back to the area, she will take care of her young regardless."
Because of the potential to spread chronic wasting disease, an illness in deer very similar to mad cow disease in cattle, the AGFC was forced to ban the possession and rehabilitation of deer and elk in 2017.
If you come across a truly injured or orphaned that is not a deer or elk, visit the AGFC website for a list of licensed rehabilitators.
It's important to keep in mind, these rehabilitators are not paid for their efforts, have limited space and are often only available during certain hours.
The AGFC warns it is illegal to move a deer found in the wild and says even if an adult deer is found dead nearby, it doesn't mean it's alone.
"Even in cases where the mother has been killed, there is still a chance other does are nearby that will take in the fawn as their own if they find them," said the AGFC. "Their best chance of living a healthy life in the wild is for people to step aside and let 'Mother Nature' take care of things."