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If you care, leave them there! How well-meaning caretakers turn into kidnappers 

Bambi belongs in the wildEvery spring, it's the same old story; people kidnap fawns from the forest, seal pups from the coast, and other baby

click to enlarge Bambi belongs in the wild
  • Bambi belongs in the wild
Bambi belongs in the wildEvery spring, it's the same old story; people kidnap fawns from the forest, seal pups from the coast, and other baby animals from their parents in the wild. No matter how often and how forceful wildlife officials say it, some people still can't seem to get it: wildlife babies are best left in the wild.

When I was working for Oregon Museum of Science and Industry, I took a group of young people down to the coast near Seal Rock to study tide pools, when I noticed a woman coming up from the beach with what appeared to be a flipper poking out from under her coat.

"Excuse me, ma'am," I said, stepping in front of her, "but are you carrying an animal under your coat?"

"No!" She blurted out, trying to get around me. I considered that the huge lump on her abdomen could be a sign she was pregnant, but then the lump and flipper moved. If she was pregnant, this was going to a big surprise for someone.

"I'm sorry, ma'am," I said, "but I think you're carrying a baby seal and if so, you're not only breaking the law, but causing a lot of problems."

"Oh, all right..." she huffed, "I do have a baby seal, so what! I found the poor thing deserted on the beach and I'm taking it home."

"Taking it home?" I shouted. "For crying out loud, what are you going to do with it?"

At that moment the seal pup launched itself from under her coat and fell to the trail at her feet. Untroubled by the sudden departure of the seal pup, she unbuttoned her coat, snatched up the babe and tucked it back into her ample bosom.

"I'm going to put it in my bath tub," she announced, trying again to side step on the trail and giving me a dirty look.

I couldn't help it, even if I went to jail, and blurted out, "What are you going to do to feed the poor little guy, nurse it?"

I thought the high school kids listening to the exchange were going to bust a gut laughing, but I jumped on them to cool it. Then I snatched the seal away from the woman, explaining that the pup was not abandoned, that its mom was out feeding and she better show me where she found it so I could put it back.

It's the same story over here, but not seal pups... Each spring Tracy Leonhardy, a state-licensed wildlife rehabilitator near Sisters, receives 20 to 30 baby wildlife animals from well-meaning, but misinformed and misguided people. Gary Landers, a licensed raptor rehabilitator ends up with baby owls and hawks mistakenly picked up by confused people.

Removing a fawn from the wild is usually a death sentence for the animal. They never learn important survival skills, such as deer language and how to escape predators.

Given the threat of disease and the fact that most fawns come to a rehab facility in poor condition, Wildlife Images of Merlin, Oregon recently decided to stop rehabilitating fawns.

"It's very difficult to rehabilitate fawns and Mother Nature can do it much better than us," explained Cory Alvis of Wildlife Images. They now work with ODFW to return healthy fawns to an area of high deer concentration for fostering by an adult doe.

"Only if you see the parent dead or dying should you assume a young animal by itself is orphaned," said ODFW's State Wildlife Veterinarian Colin Gillin. "If you encounter this situation, or see an animal clearly in distress or danger, contact your local ODFW, or OSP dispatch office 388-6300."

Corey Heath, wildlife biologist in the Bend office of ODFW says that removing or capturing (also known as "fawn-napping") wildlife and keeping them in captivity without a permit are considered Class A misdemeanors, and punishable by up to one year in jail and a $6,250 fine. Holding birds and marine mammals are also violations of state and federal laws.

Even if you could successfully raise a fawn, by the time it becomes a teenager it will be imprinted on you - thinking you are its parent and later its mate, either way it will be a mess.

There are tragic stories regarding so called "pet" deer striking children and severely injuring them; the "pet" bucks when it matures, jabbing holes in people. Then children and adults are found crying their eyes out and getting very angry when "their" animals are removed from their possession - then forced to pay a heavy fine for their misplaced "kindness."

Already this year, an Oregon State Police Fish & Wildlife Division investigation resulted in an OSP trooper citing 28-year-old Gabriel S. Maranov, of southwest Oregon with a Class A misdemeanor charge of "Unlawful Possession of a Black Bear Cub." The unfortunate bear cub will spend the rest of its life in captivity because it was removed from the wild and raised by people.

ODFW, Oregon State Police and the state's licensed wildlife rehabilitators remind everyone to live by the motto "If you care, leave them there." This is the time of year when Oregon's wildlife gives birth to its young, and parents will temporarily and naturally leave their young for a short time to feed elsewhere. Please, leave the babies where you see them.


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