"Until one has loved an animal, part of one's soul is unawakened."
Yesterday, I had the good fortune to be invited along with a local Cub Scout pack that was visiting and hiking around the Valley Forge National Park. Two dozen boys, who had no intention of being left indoors, provided me and their other leaders with many teachable moments.
While hiking along the "Redoubt Trail" in the park we heard a commotion at the edge of the woods. As we moved closer, we heard shouts of "Can we keep him?" and "His mother abandoned him!" Apparently, the scouts had spotted a doe running nearby and playfully gave chase. What they didn't realize was that they were the "players" in one of nature's great dramas.
The mother doe was actually trying to attract the attention of the scouts as a way to divert their focus away from her fawn that was lying nearby. Mother deer are not unlike all mothers; they will go to great lengths to protect their young. In this case, the mother willingly put herself at risk in an attempt to draw potential predators away from her defenseless newborn fawn.
The scouts reasoned that the mother deer had run away from her fawn -- had abandoned it -- and now they needed to be the fawn's "saviors." While their reasoning was certainly well-meaning, it was severely flawed. After a short debate among ourselves, we leaders used this opportunity to explain nature to the scouts. We instructed the boys to carefully carry the fawn back to where they found him and to sanitize their hands with some of the goo that one of the den mothers had brought on the hike. Not long after we started hiking again we looked back down the trail, and sure enough, the fawn's mother had re-joined him and they were on their way in search of something to eat.
This experience reminded that this is the time of the year when many of us, including kids, are hopefully getting outside as much as possible. There's a high probability that as more-and-more of us subscribe to the notion that no child should be left indoors, that we will end up "bumping into a babe in the woods." So here's a quick guide on what to do if and when you or a family member encounters a baby animal in the wild.
First: No, you can't keep it. Do yourself and your family a favor and steer clear of an unfriendly visit from your local Wildlife Conservation Officer. Chances are if you call our "friends in green" they will tell you to return the baby animal to where you found it. If it's endangered or a protected bird or animal and it has been injured they may help you locate a licensed rehabilitator. But keep in mind, removing wild animals from their environment is illegal and the birds and animals almost always die while in captivity.
To parents: If your well-meaning children bring home a baby animal or if your dog or cat brings in a baby rabbit or other animal, immediately try to return it to where it might have come from. Don't feed it; don't try to nurse it back to health. It will very likely die. Wild animals always do best when they're allowed to be wild.
In a situation such as the one described in the previous paragraph; parents, scout leaders and other folks who spend time with children will find themselves in a classic teachable moment. There are rules of nature that are as old as time itself. Mother Nature has her own plan of how to handle excess and weak animals and how to provide food for other wildlife. This is by no means cruel, but is the great circle of life. This is the balance of nature and it is the way it was meant to be. Don't mess with Mother Nature.
Here's a quick overview of the baby animals that you may encounter this spring
Please know that it's common for adults to leave their fawns and kits alone for part of the day, and that these babies are perfectly safe and waiting for mom to return. If you handle a fawn or kit, take a towel, rub it in the grass and use it to wipe down the animal to get your smell off.
Fuzzy backyard animals
Baby rabbits and squirrels are independent at a young age, so while they might look small, they're likely just fine. Opossums, raccoons, and skunks tend to watch out for their young, and if you spot very young animals out and about, particularly in the day time, there might be something wrong. Do your best to keep your family dog or cat from having an encounter with these young animals. If you can, guide the babies to a safe spot so that their mother can easily find them.
Forget the old myth that birds won't take back their young if they've been handled. If you see a very young bird on the ground in distress, particularly after a big storm, try to return it to its nest. If you can't find the nest or it's been destroyed, place it near the base of the tree and hope for the best. Remember to keep your distance so that you don't scare the adult birds away.
Most people are like our Cub Scouts and they have the very best intentions at heart when they find young wild animals. By all means you and your family should enjoy seeing wildlife, but leave animals to their natural world. Allow wild animals to live the way they were meant to live: Free and Wild.