In a typical heartwarming scene one day last week, I had to stop along with quite a few other vehicles almost at the intersection of Plank Road and Logan Boulevard to let 14 ducks cross the road. Obviously, this was a mother and young ones. They were no tiny yellow ducklings; they were large enough that one could scarcely pick out the hen from the rest.
For nature lovers, such a scene is really the "pause that refreshes." We so enjoy these glimpses of wildlife. Almost daily, someone stops me to tell me of the turkeys they saw or even the bear and cubs they spotted while on a ride in the mountains. And folks are spotting fawns everywhere. Earlier this year, my two hunting buddies and I saw a mother doe driving off her young of a couple years before so she could tend to the very young fawn she had with her there. What a rare and exciting scene that was.
We truly covet those times when we see young animals. But this necessitates the ever-present warning from the Game Commission to "let wildlife alone." It is a huge mistake to allow our sentimental feelings of "cuteness" to overcome our good sense. Wild animals do appear cute and cuddly when very young, but I assure you they do not stay cute long. Wild creatures age quickly, and when their wilder, aggressive streaks take over, rescuers wonder why they ever thought this creature was "cute."
First of all, it is illegal to keep wildlife. Most young animals, especially fawns, are not orphans. Most likely, the mother ran off unseen as you approached. Not because she is a coward but because her scent is a calling card for most predators that would harm her young. She tries to lead predators away from her fawn with her scent. But she does not go far, so if you let her baby alone, she will come back to it when she is assured you are gone for good.
If you know absolutely (you saw the doe killed on the highway, for instance) that a fawn is an orphan, call the Game Commission. They will relocate the fawn or otherwise care for it in such a way that it is not imprinted by human contact and can be released back into the wild.
I remember well how orphaned bear cubs were and probably still are treated. Dr. Gary Alt, back when he was the head of Pennsylvania's black bear program, pioneered the techniques needed to introduce orphaned cubs to a foster mother. This is a tricky situation simply because a black bear is not about to accept into her care and around her own cubs any cubs that she can tell is not her own. This identification is made by smell.
Things are not so compassionate in the animal world. A sow bear will kill a cub that she knows is not hers. So the problem with getting a sow to accept and raise an orphaned cub hinges on overcoming its scent.
Here's what Alt found: if a sow is still denned with her cubs, an orphan cub can be shoved into the den and chances are good that the drowsy bear will accept it. But once a sow bear and her own cubs have left the den in the spring, getting her to accept a strange cub to raise then is another matter altogether. After some trial and error, the solution lay in a dollar jar of Vicks Vaporub.
We all know the strong, ugly scent of that product. But if an orphaned cub is rubbed heavily with Vicks and then shoved up a tree with the other cubs or in some other way introduced into the environment of a sow and cubs, the sow will not be able to smell a strange scent. Since cannot count either, she just assumes it is one of her own. By the time the Vicks wears off, the cub will have the right scent and all will usually be well. I have been along on many of the expeditions in which a Vicks-covered cub was pushed at a sow. It's all very exciting.
To try to "raise" a cute little bit of wildlife is usually to condemn it to death. Once they are dependent on humans to provide food, shelter, and protection, only to throw them out into the woods on their own later is cruel. They don't know how to find their own food or how to avoid predators. They simply become easy targets for the creatures that want them for lunch.
One day years ago, I was hiking in the early fall on some state game lands. I spotted a spotted fawn at the edge of a field and stopped to look at it through binoculars. But the deer spotted me and galloped toward me. I was taken aback, not sure what to do, so I quickly began to backtrack down the trail.
To make a long story short, that little deer followed me all the way back to my cabin. I tried to dodge it, to hide from it, to even outrun it, but it just kept running after me, bleating pitifully all the way. Soon I figured out that this was a fawn that had been imprinted by human contact. So I let it walk with me the rest of the way to the cabin.
I called the Game Commission and when they came to retrieve the fawn, they recognized it. They had released it far out in the wilds, and they commented that, "They didn't know anyone but Shirley Grenoble who would be far enough back in the woods to find it." So they had to re-release it.
I've often wondered what happened to it. Did it die a natural death, did a coyote get it or was some hunter totally ambushed by a deer with a death wish?