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The Humane Society of the United States has received more calls this month — more than 300 — than ever before at this time of year from all over the Northeast about seemingly orphaned fawns and raccoons. Facilities run by wildlife rehabilitators, who volunteer their time and money to care for orphaned and injured wildlife, are becoming filled to capacity for the first time at a far faster rate than previous years.
"This is the worst season we've ever experienced," says Laura Simon, Conn.-based field director of urban wildlife for The HSUS, who runs The HSUS' wildlife hotline. "The tragedy is that most of these animals are not orphans until well-intentioned people take wrongful actions and don't realize that they are creating the problem."
Deer and their fawns:
Problem: Most people do not realize that mother deer "park" their fawns someplace for about a month after birth, and the doe does not stay with her fawn because her own odor will attract predators. Instead, the fawn relies on camouflage coloration to stay hidden. The mother only returns to nurse her fawn 2-3 times a day. However, says Simon, "When people see a big-eyed fawn all alone, they assume she is orphaned and they grab her. However, 99 percent of the time 'orphaned fawn' phone calls don't involve orphans at all."
Solution: Immediately return the fawn to where she was found. Only if the fawn is constantly crying and wandering, or if a dead lactating doe is found in the area, should one be concerned. Otherwise it is safe to assume the mother is around and will return to nurse her fawn until the fawn is old enough to travel around with her.
Raccoons and their cubs:
Problem: This is peak birthing and rearing season for raccoons. Mother raccoons often have young in attics and chimneys, and when people hear chirring noises, they wrongfully get out a "humane" trap or call a trapper. The end result: a mother raccoon is taken away — often killed — and her cubs left behind. "We know of rehabilitators now caring for 25 to 40 raccoons around the clock. They are overwhelmed, and cannot handle any more," states Simon.
Solution: Assume raccoons around your home are mothers with young. If raccoons are in the chimney, keep the damper closed and wait. The mother raccoon will typically move her cubs to a new den when they are six weeks old since this is the beginning of "summer school," when the young will learn how to cope with the outside world. Once the chimney seems unoccupied, a chimney sweep can be hired to verify that and install a chimney cap to prevent re-entry.
Attic or shed raccoons can be gently urged to self-evict using a combination of loud rap music from a portable radio and rags soaked in cider vinegar, placed all around the denning area.
Scrap the trap! Many wild animals caught in traps tend to be mothers — which means young will be left behind to starve. "So-called humane traps are anything but that, this time of year," says Simon.
The HSUS Wild Neighbors Program promotes non-lethal means for resolving conflicts between people and wildlife and cultivates understanding and appreciation for wild animals commonly found in cities and towns. The program's book, Wild Neighbors: The Humane Approach to Living with Wildlife (Dec. 2007, Humane Society Press) is a useful reference for individuals and communities faced with resolving encounters with wild animals who find their way into yards, gardens, houses, parks and playgrounds. On the web at humanesociety.org/wildneighbors.
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