Leave baby wildlife alone
| April 28, 2021 12:00 AM
Each spring, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks receives calls from people who have picked up deer fawns or other wildlife. It’s important to remember that Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks no longer accepts, holds or rehabilitates moose, deer, elk and most other animals.
Often, people think they are rescuing an orphaned animal. However, it’s important to understand that wildlife care for their young much differently than humans. They have strategies to provide the highest chance of survival for their young.
One strategy that some species, particularly those species that are more commonly seen as prey (deer, rabbits, birds), use is to distance themselves from their young for many hours at a time.
This helps to keep predators away from their young. For example, fawns are born without a scent and it is safer for them if their mother, who has a scent, is not nearby. This also can potentially distract a predator into focusing on the doe vs. their offspring.
FWP believes wild animals thrive better in the wild where they have plenty of natural habitat (food, water, shelter, space) and thrive better with other wildlife than with humans, who they consider an apex predator. Nature provides them the best options for survival and a better quality of life.
The potential to spread wildlife disease is also a good reason to leave young wildlife alone. Baby ground squirrels, racoons and rabbits can carry zoonotic diseases, which means diseases that are infectious for humans. Examples include plague, hemorrhagic diseases and tularemia.
If you see a baby animal, whether a goose or a grizzly, keep your distance and leave it alone. Handling baby animals can be dangerous, and usually once young animals are picked up by people they can’t be rehabilitated.
What can you do?
- Leave It There. It’s natural for deer and elk to leave their young alone for extended periods of time.
- Control Your Dog. Keep your dog under control, especially in the spring when newborn wildlife is most vulnerable. Pet owners can be cited and dogs that harass or kill wildlife may by law have to be destroyed.
- Keep cats indoors. Many birds nest and feed on the ground. Young birds are also learning how to fly, making them vulnerable to cats. The bacteria in cat saliva are toxic to birds, so even if a cat does not immediately kill a bird, its bite often leads to infection and death.
- Keep in Mind. It is illegal to possess and care for a live animal taken from the wild.
As a wildlife agency, FWP’s priority is to keep wild animals wild. When people keep and raise elk, deer or other animals, it habituates wildlife to humans, potentially causing problems once released back into the wild.
Should someone bring a deer or elk to FWP, they'll be asked to take the animal back to the site where it was found.
If the animal can't be returned, it may need to be humanely euthanized.