Saving Baby Deer

By Hannah Schardt; photos by Suzi Eszterhas

Without a mother to care for it, a little deer is in big trouble. Good thing there are people ready to help!

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Oh, deer! The baby black-tailed deer above is stuck inside a fenced-in yard. After someone closed the gate, its mother was able to jump back out. But the baby, or fawn, is too little to make that leap. While Mom waits and worries, the fawn stays near the fence, calling to her.

Luckily, this sad scene has a happy ending: The owner of the yard spots the trapped fawn and opens a gate. Soon, the baby is back with its mom. But not all fawns are so lucky. Some-times, one gets stuck in a yard for hours or even days. Its mom eventu-ally has to give up and go away.

Getting stuck isn’t the only way a fawn gets separated from its mom. Sometimes a mother deer dies, leaving behind one or more help-less fawns. And sometimes a fawn gets too sick or injured for its mom to care for it. For many fawns, it’s impossible to survive without a mom. But for a lucky few, people step in to save the day. When that happens in northern California, there’s a good chance the fawn will end up at Kindred Spirits Fawn Rescue in Loomis, California. Want to visit this special place? Keep reading.

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Welcome to Kindred Spirits
In a normal year, Kindred Spirits Fawn Rescue takes in around 200 fawns. In years when California doesn’t get much rain, that number can be even higher. That’s when deer are most likely to go looking for food and water in fenced-in suburban yards—and fawns are most likely to be separated from their moms.

Some rescued fawns are only a few hours old. Others are older. All of them need lots of gentle care. That’s where Diane Nicholas comes in. Diane runs Kindred Spirits, raising the motherless fawns until they’re ready to go back to the wild.

When a fawn first arrives, Diane puts it in a small pen all by itself. She needs to make sure it isn’t carrying any diseases that would spread to the other fawns. And then she gets down to the business of feeding, cleaning, and caring for it—just like a mother deer would.

Loving Care
Raising fawns takes a lot of work, and Diane and one helper do almost all of it. A newborn fawn needs to eat every four hours, around the clock. The fawns at the center drink a special formula made from goat milk. Diane and her helper mix up fresh, warm formula for every feeding.

At first, a very young fawn might not know how to drink from a bottle. Diane patiently keeps trying until the fawn latches on. Even after that, the work doesn’t end. Each bottle needs to be carefully cleaned so it’s ready for the next feeding.

Sometimes, someone brings an injured or sick fawn to Kindred Spirits. It may have been hit by a car or caught in a wire fence. Or it may be dehydrated—dangerously low on water—from the California summer heat. A specially trained veterinarian visits the center for checkups while the fawn gets better.

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Stay Wild
A deer that is too comfortable around people can never live in  the wild again. So Diane is careful to keep the fawns as “wild” as possible as they grow up.

When a rescued fawn is about six weeks old, Diane puts it in a large pen with other fawns. And she no longer feeds it by hand. Instead, she mounts bottles on a feeding rack where a group of fawns can drink without seeing her. That helps the young deer get used to the idea of eating with no people around.

As it grows, a young deer drinks less milk and eats more solid food, such as grass, leaves, and acorns. By then, it doesn’t see much of Diane anymore. She’s careful to put out food while the fawns are in another part of the pen.

Back to Nature
When the young deer are five or six months old, they are ready to return to the wild. But Diane doesn’t simply open a gate and set them free! She searches for just the right place to release them. It must have plenty of natural food for the deer to eat, fresh water for them to drink, and brushy areas where they can safely rest.

Then Diane parks a trailer inside the pen. For a few days, she puts the deer’s food inside the trailer so they’ll get used to going inside it. That way, they won’t be scared on release day when she needs to load them up and drive them away.

Finally, it’s the day of the big release. Diane drives the deer to the area she’s chosen and opens the trailer door. She leads them out into their new home, knowing they have a good chance to live full, wild lives. Bye, deer!

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