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Otto: If you care, leave those baby animals there

Every great cause needs a poster child. Where would the Muscular Dystrophy Telethon be without “Jerry’s Kids”? And who could forget the many faces of the March of Dimes?

The natural world has its “poster children,” too. The iconic Smokey Bear grew from the true story of a young cub rescued from a wildfire in the mountains of New Mexico. And Woodsy Owl for years admonished kids and adults alike to, “Give a hoot, don’t pollute.” (Come to think of it, judging by the condition of many of our roadsides, we could use a good dose of Woodsy again. But that’s another topic for another column…)

And now we’ve got a brand-new poster child, only a few days old, right here in Kane County. As far as I’m concerned, she – or maybe he – is the face (or at least lovely, spotted back) for this year’s round of If You Care, Leave Them There – the annual campaign by nature folk to keep wild animal babies wild.

Little Jane Doe, or John Buck, showed up Tuesday in the yard of Karl and Kathy Coyner of St. Charles. Mom Deer dropped the wee fawn early in the day, then proceeded – as wild animal moms often do – to go about her business, sans newborn.

The baby, all wobbly-legged and doe-eyed (buck-eyed?), summoned every ounce of strength and made its way up to the Coyners’ house, then collapsed among the hostas and lilies-of-the-valley to take a much-needed nap. Right in front of the picture window.

What’s a good neighbor to do? Surely that helpless creature could use a helping hand, abandoned as it were. Right?

Luckily for the little dear, deer, the Coyners are no strangers to nature. They recognized that mother knows best, and felt that this fawn’s mom, negligent though she seemed, would be back. Even though it tested their nature to nurture, they knew it would be best to let the sleeping fawn lie.

Well, sure enough, later in the day, mom returned. She sniffed the air, and the fawn sniffed back. Later still, both mom and baby were gone, off to make their way in the woodland that surrounds the Coyners’ home.

Now, just suppose things had turned out differently. What if the Coyners had interfered? Raising a deer in captivity is difficult, not to mention illegal, for private individuals. And as for wildlife rescue groups, any qualified rehabber will tell you that they’re really a last resort for wild animal babies; that the wildlife momma is the one most qualified to raise their young; and that humans should get involved only when a baby is really, truly abandoned – that is, left unattended for 12 hours or more.

What if someone had touched the fawn? Even though we’ve all heard the adage that if you touch a wild baby its mother will reject it, that saying is not true. The maternal instinct is strong and won’t be deterred by any sort of lingering human scent; as an aside, mother birds won’t be deterred by scent at all, given that most have a very poor, even nonexistent, sense of smell. (My theory is that the whole human-scent-equals-rejection rumor got started by someone’s mom – the same one who came up with the claim that toads give you warts, and if you keep making that face, it might stay that way forever.)

What if the fawn had crawled up onto, say, the driveway instead of the hostas? The Coyners could have moved it a short distance, out of harm’s way, without risk to themselves or the young deer.

We’re in the thick of baby animal season right now. Little creatures everywhere are making their way into the world. And all of them, feathered or furred, look like they need our help. But the majority do not.

If you do find an animal that’s injured or really, truly abandoned (remember that 12-hour rule) contact the folks at the Fox Valley Wildlife Center in Elburn, 630-365-3800, They can advise you on what your next step should be. If they recommend you do bring the animal to them, do the right thing and make a contribution to help pay for the care of your critter. FVWC is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization that relies solely on donations and grants they receive.

But for all those other animals who are perfectly healthy and just momentarily on their own, remember the story of little Jane Doe/John Buck. If you care, leave them there.

• Pam Otto, who once watched a nest of baby rabbits go for 14 hours before Mama Bunny finally returned, is the manager of nature programs and interpretive services for the St. Charles Park District. She can be reached at 630-513-4346 or

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