Hikers ‘rescue’ fawns near Aspen
June 14, 2011
ASPEN – Two hikers on Smuggler Mountain near Aspen picked up a pair of young fawns Friday morning, prompting this message from open space and wildlife officials: Leave wild animals alone.
Pitkin County was notified that the fawns were curled up next to Smuggler Mountain Road by individuals concerned for their safety in an area where off-leash dogs are permitted, but are to be under sight and voice control.
The county didn’t interfere with the animals, according to Open Space and Trails ranger John Armstrong, but officials were later notified that two people were each carrying a fawn down the road.
They were intercepted by city ranger Brian Long, with Aspen Parks, Open Space and Trails, as well as a county deputy. The fawns were placed well off the road in the hopes that they would reunite with their mother, Long said. He estimated the animals weighed about 10 pounds apiece.
“They did not appear to be old enough to survive on their own,” he said.
It’s unlikely the fawns were abandoned, but were left along the road early in the morning when it was quiet, Long surmised. They would best have been left alone to await their mother’s return.
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“On their own, fawns have a very special trait in that they have no scent. A wolf or a coyote [or a dog] could walk right past them,” Long said. Their dappled coloration allows them to blend in with the forest floor; they curl up and lie still for protection. Once humans picked the animals up, their lack of scent was compromised, he said.
“The people who picked them up thought they were looking out for the wildlife and doing a good thing. Possibly, they sealed their fate,” Long said.
Long said he had a “long talk” with the hikers about leaving wildlife alone. Though they broke a law, no citations were issued.
The Colorado Division of Wildlife, too, urges people to leave young wildlife untouched. According to the DOW, a well-intentioned impulse to save animals that appear orphaned or abandoned can often lead to unintended consequences, including the death of the young animal.
“A human baby needs constant attention, but this is not the case with wildlife,” said Travis Black, wildlife manager in the Lamar area, in a DOW press release. “In fact, female animals often leave their offspring alone for long periods of time. A person that decides to intervene is often the worst thing that can happen.”
The best thing to do, he said, is leave the animal where it is and report its location to the DOW.
“Our trained personnel or volunteers will respond and make the determination about what is best for the animal,” Black said. “In most cases, the animal will be better off if we leave it where it is.”
On the other hand, he advised, returning a young bird to its nest or nearby branch, if it can be done safely, can be helpful, as they are easy prey for domestic cats and other predators.