A curious thing happened the other day. My husband and I were driving home from running errands. We got about 30 feet from home when a doe jumped out and ran across the road.
We stopped, as usually when one doe is running, others are following. Just then, a newborn fawn stumbled into the road on wobbly legs. It just stood there.
Still waiting in the car, we held our breath to see what would happen next. All of a sudden, two does jumped from the opposite side of the road (where the first doe had run) and ran straight for the fawn. I couldn’t tell if they ran over him, or into him, but in the ruckus he tumbled down. He lay flat on the road and didn’t move. Again, we waited.
A car came rushing up the road headed straight for the fawn. Without words, we both jumped out of the car and ran straight for him, arms waving at the car. I ran up and scooped him into my arms.
The car stopped and a young woman got out.
“I’m so glad you stopped me,” she said, “I thought it was a turtle.” (I’m not sure if she meant that if it was a turtle, she was going to run over it.) Anyway, we talked about the fawn and took pictures, and she left. Both sides of the road had steep hills. It didn’t look like this tiny fawn would be able to follow either of those does. So I braved the poison ivy and carried him up the hill, dodging the three-leafed viper the best I could.
At the top of the hill, the forest gave way to our neighbor’s broad lawn with trees and patches of tall grass. I laid him down in the tall grass, knowing that his mom was watching from a distance and would come to him as soon as I left.
It brought back memories of 20 years working in nature centers and all of the “rescued” animals that were brought to us this time each year. “Rescued” rabbits, birds, and yes, even fawns. Many people do not realize that wild mothers will fight to the death to protect their babies. They have many innate behaviors to keep their babies safe. During the day, they hide their babies, then leave them alone so that they do not attract attention to the babies. If a predator comes near – like a person – they are better equipped to try to divert attention to themselves and draw the predator away from the baby. Many times when the baby animal is picked up and “rescued” the wild mom is watching.
The old wives tale that if you touch the baby the mother will kill it probably comes from mothers trying to keep their children from picking up wildlife. It’s best, if you find a nest of rabbits, to touch all of them so that they all smell the same, and birds have extremely poor (or no) sense of smell. Deer are the same. If you come upon a fawn, take a picture and leave it – Mama is near and watching her baby.
Lynn Youngblood is the Executive Director of the Blue River Watershed Association in Kansas City, Missouri. Reach her at TheGreenSpace@sbcglobal.net.