Thursday, June 30, 2011

Ask the conservation officer

By Gary Hompland, Regional Conservation Officer, IDFG

Question: "I heard about someone that found an orphaned deer fawn and raised it to an adult. I'd like to do this, what kinds of permits are required?"

Answer: The short answer is, only under very rare circumstances would the Department authorize anyone to possess a wild fawn deer or calf elk.

In the past it may have been common in Idaho to allow a "Good Samaritan" to raise an orphaned fawn and "release it back into the wild." When Idaho's human population was sparsely distributed, deer that were habituated to humans were often released on large ranches and farms. Gracious landowners tolerated these deer that often lived out their lives within the security of the ranch.

These deer were usually not marked so the success of these animals returning to the wild could not be evaluated. No doubt some were successful and some were not, but nature decided, not people.

Idaho's population is no longer sparsely distributed. Deer habituated to humans in urban environments damage property and threaten personal safety. Several years ago a buck deer that was raised in captivity as a fawn attacked and injured several people. One elderly lady was charged repeatedly, knocked down and left with numerous bruises on her legs. In the end the deer was euthanized due to the danger it posed to the public.

To add a layer of complexity of the issue, several wildlife diseases, unknown in the past, now pose a threat to other wild deer, domestic livestock, and people. Examples include chronic wasting disease, brucellosis, epizootic hemorrhagic disease, and tuberculosis.

Chronic wasting disease has devastated wild deer populations across country and caused several states to prohibit importation of the carcass or skull of deer taken by hunters. Some think its spread is by contact with infected animals or body fluids.

Brucellosis in elk, bison, and cattle in Wyoming threaten Idaho's livestock industry. Epizootic hemorrhagic disease (EHD) killed thousands of deer in the Clearwater drainage a few years ago. Two workers were infected with tuberculosis when exposed to infected elk in a game farm in Montana.

Many state wildlife agencies are restricting commercial game farms and private collections of wildlife. They are also developing quarantine protocols to prevent the movement of infected or potentially infected animals. These diseases pose significant threats to wild deer and elk populations throughout Idaho. Domestication of wild deer is one of the issues related disease transmission to wild populations.   

The question remains, "What can we do with orphaned fawn deer." First, "Is it really orphaned or was it picked up while the doe was away? How old is the fawn, can it fend for itself with a little protection? Department employees understand the human emotion generated by fawn deer and want to be compassionate about the fate of these wild deer fawns.

Department employees first go to great lengths to reunite the fawn with the doe. There is no better option than having the fawn raised in the wild with its mother.

Our next option includes locating a licensed zoo or research facility in need of deer fawns. In past years we successfully placed several fawns in a Chronic wasting disease research facility in Wyoming and Colorado. Some may argue this is a cruel option, but the fawn can play an important role benefiting future wild deer populations.

If no other options exist, the fawn will be placed in a rehab facility. The people that run these facilities go to great lengths to maintain as much wildness as possible to maximize the fawn's opportunity for survival after release. There are very few of these facilities in Idaho and their abilities are overwhelmed quickly.

At this point in time, the Department is strongly discouraging people from picking up young animals. Our first concern is quickly reuniting young animals with their mothers. We are obligated to use sound wildlife management principles to maintain Idaho's resources and in this case other options are necessary but far less desirable.

If you have any further questions you may call the Magic Valley Regional Office of the Idaho Department of Fish and Game at (208)324-4350 or e-mail us at the Fish and Game web site at http://fishand

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