The first pattern of a fawn is the forest floor. The white spots on its brown coat resemble the speckled sunrays cascading through the trees, breaking the outline of the deer’s silhouette. Camouflage helps protect baby whitetail deer from bears and bobcats while the mother feeds elsewhere.
While its mother is away, the fawn hides in the tall grass and remains vigilant, eyes open and ears pricked, listening to movements. When the doe returns, she feeds her baby milk and licks it all over to remove its scent. She licks her genitals to persuade the fawn to urinate or defecate, and then she may even eat his feces. Its cleaning ensures that predators will not detect a scent from its baby.
But sometimes the doe doesn’t come back – run over by a car, maybe. If the fawn is left alone for too long, its ears will curl up, a sign of dehydration, and flies can roam around its uncleaned body, attracting attention. Younger deer are often too weak to stand, and in Westchester County in New York City, many are found next to the bodies of their dead mothers on the side of the road, according to Patrick Moore, president of Animal Nation. , a non-profit animal rescue organization. band based in Rye, NY
Fortunately, Mr. Moore knows how to be a doe. If the Animal Nation facility is overcrowded, which it often is, Mr. Moore will house the fawns in his bathroom. There, he cleans them, wiping off any maggots that might have hatched from the eggs laid in the deer droppings. Every two to four hours, he gives the calves some goat’s milk. He will rub the anal regions of the fawns to induce them to produce waste, his fingers mimicking a mother’s tongue.
“The hardest part is not letting them print,” Moore said. A cuddly baby deer can easily think of itself as a human, making it difficult to release the animal back into the wild. Thus, Mr. Moore is quick and quiet in his work. He keeps orphaned fawns together so that they can bond with their own species. During the baby season, which peaks from May to September, he rarely sleeps more than four hours at a time.
After all, baby season is more than fawns. There are baby groundhogs, baby hawks, baby great horned owls, and baby squirrels, which arrive in several litters from spring through fall. Many are injured and sick, and most are unable to fend for themselves.
Their cases illustrate the ongoing tension between the suburbs and nature, and the tragicomic interactions that can ensue. Even though Mr. Moore takes care of the fawns in his shower, many suburbs are struggling to reduce their deer populations. At New York, a car collision between a deer and a vehicle occurs every eight minutes, with a total of 9,700 in 2016, according to the New York Crash Data analysis by AAA Northeast. Ungulates can also destroy gardens, feed on crops and spread Lyme disease.
Although he is President of Animal Nation, Mr. Moore is an unpaid volunteer. He has a full time job as a firefighter in the Bronx. This cumulative rescue job is exhausting and Mr. Moore is exhausted. But if there is room in his own house, he can’t help but help the animals. “People say, ‘Let me visit your facility,’” he said. “And I say, ‘You come to my bathroom.'”
Creatures stranded everywhere
Animal Nation, one of the few rehabilitation centers in Westchester, often reaches its maximum capacity and must stop taking in new creatures before the end of the year. But calls have skyrocketed during the pandemic, as people once cocooned in offices have started spending more time outdoors. They found orphaned fawns near bike paths and baby birds that had fallen from their nests. Many of the town’s residents have moved to the suburbs, and some new owners have been greeted by swarms of bats or flying squirrels tied to the attic, according to Jim Horton, owner of QualityPro Pest & Wildlife Services in Hawthorne, NY.
Some wildlife control specialists euthanize so-called pests, but Mr. Horton takes the animals he moves to rehabilitation centers. He also assists Animal Nation on many of its more difficult calls. A few weeks ago, Mr. Horton climbed a 40-foot ladder to pull a baby raccoon out of a tree. Earlier this year, he gathered a family of swans trying to cross a boardwalk and dropped them off at a nearby lake. He was also called in to help a bald eagle that someone thought had been hit by a car, but which turned out to have lead poisoning.
Most of the calls received by Animal Nation relate to baby animals without any distress. Last week someone called Mr. Horton about a baby bird she had found in her yard and placed in a box. Mr. Horton had a hunch that the bird’s mother might be nearby, so he brought the bird back in and out of the box; Like clockwork, the blackbird mother flew off to feed her newly released chick.
This error often occurs with fawns left behind by their mothers in backyards, which may appear abandoned to the well-meaning viewer. “In the case of humans, your enemy’s enemy is your friend,” said Asia Murphy, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of California, Santa Cruz, who used camera traps to study fawns in Pennsylvania. Coyotes, bobcats and black bears avoid humans, so living alongside people can provide additional safety for a deer, Dr Murphy said.
When Mr. Horton receives a call about a fawn, he asks about its ears (are they buckled?) And its hygiene (are there flies?). If both answers are no, Mr. Horton advises the appellant to leave the fawn alone for the night; more often than not, the mother doe will move her baby to a new location the next day.
The year of the parasite
In any given year, wildlife rehabilitators can never predict what types of calls might come more often. This year appears to be the year of the parasite, Moore said. He and other rehabbers are overloaded with waterfowl riddled with gaping worm, a parasite that lives and breeds in a bird’s windpipe and causes it to gasp or shake its head. Many of the fawns that the group collected have E. coli and therefore suffer from diarrhea. Mr. Moore suspects baby deer get it from the soil they eat.
“We have this perfect summer, hot, humid and humid, in which pests thrive,” said Moore, adding that the winters that were freezing and killing soil-related pests every year are heating up.
Mr. Moore first became a licensed wildlife rehabilitator in New York State at the age of 16 and hand-fed baby birds in his mother’s house. Back then, he wanted to help all the animals he could.
Now, at 32, he longs for more systemic change. “People are calling you for this little fawn,” he said. “But do we do tons of research and keep a good track of which animals have which problems?” Mr. Moore often sends samples to state-run pathology labs. But resources are limited, especially for species considered invasive or non-threatened populations. There is still money and concerns for bald eagles and peregrine falcons, but less for squirrels and deer, Moore said.
When licensed wildlife rehabilitators in New York City work with an animal that is too weak to recover, the only legal way to euthanize the animal is to break its neck. Mr. Moore has never done that, he said, choosing instead to work with vets who volunteer their time.
For some of the animals taken care of by Animal Nation, euthanasia is the most humane option. Mr Horton recently received a call about an abandoned fawn on the Pace University football field. From a distance, the fawn looked fine. But as Mr. Horton approached it, the young deer stood up and revealed a twist in his neck: a birth defect, and the reason his mother abandoned him. Mr. Horton picked up the fawn and laid it on the floor mat in the passenger seat of his car, where he curled up as he drove. The fawn’s birth defect meant it had to be euthanized.
Some fly away, others come back
Animal Nation volunteers receive up to 100 calls per day, and it is impossible to answer all of them. As we spoke on the phone, a beleaguered Mr. Moore had just received a call about a baby pigeon in nearby Putnam County. He was also waiting to see if a rescued raptor could be admitted to The Raptor Trust center in Millington, NJ, an hour’s drive away. The facility, which has spacious flight enclosures to help injured birds learn to fly properly, has a waiting list.
“I don’t want to give up on the little critters,” Mr. Moore said. But his 16-year-old car would not necessarily have taken on this unbearable workload. “We need paid rehabbers,” he said. “We need paid staff. We are doing our best. “
As the baby season progresses, Animal Nation’s fawns will continue to wean and stabilize on their once wobbly paws. The state demands that all deer be released by September 10. Mr. Moore therefore plans to gently release the fawns in August. “We are opening the doors and continuing to feed them,” he said. “We let them come and go as needed. “
Many animals that pass through the doors of Animal Nation will leave the establishment never to be seen again. The birds fly away. “Possums are laughing at you,” Mr. Moore said.
Others, like squirrels foraging for food, know how to come back. And sometimes the fawns return to Animal Nation the following year, their legs broken by the cars. Mr Moore said it was easy to spot an adult deer which he rehabilitated as a fawn. “They will come closer than a deer should,” he said. “And you know it’s your baby.”