White-tailed deer fawn in full swing in the Florida Panhandle, which means wildlife rescue organizations are inundated with the calls of presumably abandoned young deer.
For the first few weeks of an antelope’s life, an antelope hides its offspring and then travels to a safe distance to prevent its scent from attracting predators to the young animal’s hiding place. You will return twice a day at dusk and dawn to nurse and care for dawn.
“Other times, they’d be out looking for food, or far enough away, so if a predator was attracted to them, it wouldn’t be able to detect where the antelope is,” said Shelby Broy, director of wildlife at Alaqua Animal Refuge.
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While in hiding, the antelope may remain motionless as a survival mechanism to deter predators. This can sometimes lead to the mistaken belief that the antelope’s lack of movement means it is sick or injured and prompt them to remove the animal to help it.
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It’s an ongoing concern across the state, said Melissa Smith, director of public information for the FWC’s Northwest Territory. Alaqua has also seen an increase in calls as development pushes animals out of their traditional habitat and into more urban areas.
Over the past month, Broy said the Alaqua Animal Shelter in Freeport has been receiving calls almost daily from people who have stumbled across elk either on their property or near a road with no mother around.
“What I regret is that I would say about 80% of the calls we get, people have actually removed the animal because of what they considered a rescue or intervention, when in fact it was most likely a kidnapping,” she said.
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While antelopes can be successfully rehabilitated, Broy said it’s always best if they are raised by their mothers.
People will sometimes try to save and raise a fawn in their home, which is not only illegal in Florida, but endangers the animal’s life. Many people find that deer will not eat or gain enough weight, Broy said.
“By the time they get to us, we have to put in a lot of extra effort to get him back to health,” she said. “Or sometimes we can’t even because they’ve gone so far and are dehydrated and malnourished.”
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The Alaqua Animal Shelter was looking after four pairs brought in as rescues as of Friday. Broy said at least three of them were likely taken from their mothers by mistake.
“I’ll assume based on the stories we’ve been told,” she said. “We get these vague details, because if we get the health details, we can put them back there if we get them soon enough and see if we can reunite them with my mom.”
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Studies have shown that most deer will search for their young for 72 hours after they are lost. An antelope can be reunited with its mother during that time if it is positioned 50 yards from where it was found.
However, Broy said many people either don’t know the site or have had it for a long time. The Alaqua will rehabilitate the antelope until they are 16 to 18 weeks old. Based on past data, Proie said she expects 15 to 20 fawns to be treated and taken care of this season.
Staff limits interactions with elk to ensure they do not appear to humans. When bottle feeding them, they will cover the antelope’s eyes with a blanket or towel. They also ensure that deer can be adequately fed on their own before they are released.
“They are very nice and I think that’s why people try to rehabilitate themselves,” Broy said. “There is a lot of evidence that we can give these good citizens who think they are doing the right thing to be able to assess whether or not the animal is really an orphan.”
What to do if you find a fawn alone
While elk can sometimes appear emaciated, this is not always the case. Proie said they are often born very skinny and don’t gain weight very quickly. If they didn’t have any injuries and didn’t talk too loudly, Brouy said their mother would most likely still be around.
“If it’s far away somewhere and it’s very small and not erupting, or making their little noises calling for their mum, it’s a good indication that they’re just as far away as they should be and they have full bellies,” she said. “When they’re hungry, they’ll let you know. Very loud.”
People can also check to see if an antelope is dehydrated by pinching its skin. If the skin comes back down, that’s a good sign. Skin that is tense and does not sag is an indication that the fawn has not been fed for at least 24 hours.
If you’re near an unsafe road or area, Broy said cows can be moved within 50 yards of sight to keep them out of harm’s way. But without any visible signs of dehydration or injury, deer should be left alone.
“If you’re worried, come back the next day and assess the situation with dehydration and appetite tricks,” she said. “If it’s still there, they can always call and we can advise from there. But 90% of the time when that happens, the animal goes the next day.”
Although deer are not aggressive, they can pose a danger to people and their pets. Deer sometimes carry digestive parasites such as Giardia and Cryptosporidium, which can be transmitted to humans and other animals such as dogs and cats.
“So it’s best to be safe to pass it on to trained professionals who know how to use the appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE),” Broy said. “And learn about the drugs that treat them and give them the best chance of success and release them into the wild.”
Treating and caring for antelopes is an expensive endeavor that involves specialized formulation, supplements, and medicinal antiparasitic treatments for sick or infected animals. The Alaqua Animal Shelter operates only on donations from supporters.
People can donate to help the sanctuary take care of sick, injured or orphaned wildlife by visiting secure.givelively.org/donate.
Anyone who comes across a fawn and needs additional guidance can call the FWC’s Northwest Territory Office at 850-265-3676 or the Alaqua Animal Refuge at 850-880-6399.