Distance learning: Newborn wildlife is for watching, not touching

JACKSON, Wyo. — Wildlife officials are reminding the public that encountering a baby animal in the wild, seemingly alone or abandoned, is more common than you might think. And not a cause for concern.

If you’re outside this spring, there is a good chance you’ll see newborn wildlife. These young elk, deer, pronghorn and other babies are charismatic and an incredible sight to view and photograph. At the same time, the Wyoming Game and Fish Department urges people who come across young animals to leave newborn wildlife alone and keep a distance.

“The chance to see newborn wildlife is one of the best parts of springtime in Wyoming. But please view animals from a distance and do not pet or pick them up,” said Will Schultz, Game and Fish biologist. “With all animals, the first few weeks of life are the most critical in determining their survival and interference from humans can most definitely put their lives at risk.”

Most mammals hide their young and return periodically to nurse. People who find young animals without a mother nearby often assume the newborns have been abandoned, but this is almost never the case.

“The mother knows where her young are and will almost certainly return to care for them,” said Schultz.

Cow elk, for instance, spend surprisingly little time with their newborn calves. There is logic behind this. Mom gives off scent. A newborn does not. Mom knows this and purposely spends most of her time away from her newborn, but within close enough proximity, so as not to attract any predators. The newborn instinctively remains as still as possible in the event it senses anyone or anything in the near vicinity.

If you encounter a newborn elk or mule deer, leave that area and respect that calf or fawn is doing its very best to hold still and is afraid. Mom is also probably nearby and watching you.

Young birds sometimes fall out of or leave their nests before they are able to fly. The parents continue to care for the young bird while it is on the ground, bringing food and trying to protect the youngster while it is in this vulnerable situation.

Getting too close to newborn wildlife can also be very dangerous. A mother bear, bison, moose and even deer will display aggressive behavior when humans get close to their young. Leave the area immediately if you encounter aggressive wildlife with young.

“The best option for people who come across newborn wildlife is to leave them alone,” said Schultz.

If children bring home a wild “orphan,” immediately return it to the exact spot it was found. In the rare instance when a fawn or other newborn is found and the mother is known to be dead, contact the nearest game wardenbiologist or Game and Fish Regional Office; do not attempt to capture these animals yourself.

State and federal laws forbid possession of game and many non-game animals, so adopting newborn wildlife is illegal. Citations can be issued for possession of newborn wildlife with a possible penalty of up to a $1,000 fine.

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