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Leave these babes in the woods

As helpless and heartbreakingly cute as that newborn fawn might look stumbling through your yard, chances are you should follow your head rather that your heart and leave it be. Mom’s probably just a few feet away, hiding or feeding.

And if you touch that baby deer, its mom will stay away. Permanently.

Actually, the same goes for all wildlife. Unless a baby anything in the wild is clearly hurt or maimed, the guiding principle should be “hands off.” Human scent on a newborn animal causes the mother to reject it, leaving the baby to fend vainly for itself.

Even when the newborn looks dangerously out of place — say, wandering along Highway 20 — its odds for survival are better in the wild than when “rescued” and raised by human care.

Dr. Susan Fraley of Animal Care & Laser Center in Oak Harbor said on Wednesday that many newborn animals recently brought into the clinic by concerned folks would have stood a better chance if left to nature’s care.

“A lot of people with the best of intentions are capturing wild animals and bringing them to us,” Fraley said. “They’re found without their mothers, but it’s normal behavior for mothers to go off for days or hours at a time.”

Yet, she added, “people worry about these babies, so they take them and bring them to us. Often time, these babies are being taken away from homes where the parents would have returned.”

Fraley said she more than understands the impulse to rescue something so vulnerable-looking as a wobbly fawn or bunnies huddling in a nest. However, when the actual survival rates of animals raised by people are taken into consideration, one might be more hesitant about giving newborns a hand.

“Our goal is to help animals to succeed in the wild, and it is extremely difficult to help animals do that from babies to adult,” Fraley said. “Staying away is the most important thing you can do immediately.”

Fraley, however, is quick to add that the clinic specializes in rehabilitating injured animals of all kinds, and that people should not hesitate to call if they are uncertain about what to do when they see something in the wild that might be impaired. On this front, the staff is extremely helpful, being both gracious and enthusiastic about the well-being of all animals.

So far this year, about 30 bunnies have been brought into the Animal Care & Laser Center clinic, Fraley said, as well as two fawns — Fawnzie and Juniper — currently in captivity. Survival rates for newborn rabbits raised by professionals are particularly dicey, due to the fragility of their systems and their need for mother’s milk, which provide the development of important grass-digesting enzymes. Only about one in 10 bunnies raised by people lives, Fraley said.

The main difficulties that arise from removing newborn animals from their natural habitat is that they are robbed of needful nutrients. Also, in the process of being raised by people, they become domesticated, or habitualized to being hand-fed and pampered. For obvious reasons, this often leads to tragic consequences when such animals are reintroduced to the wild.

“Nothing can replace mother’s milk,” Fraley said. It would appear that nothing can replace the habits newborns learn through experience, either. Mother-hen, along with Nature’s School of Hard Knocks, teaches young ‘uns how to survive. On the other hand, when they’re weaned on the bottle, they might not know how to elude predators, find food and otherwise fend for themselves.

“People should be skirted rather than relied upon for food,” Fraley said.

In other words, let nature take its course.

If you have any questions about what to do with or how to approach an injured or infant animal found in the wild, call Animal Care & Laser Center at 679-6796.

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