Courtesy of Texas Parks & Wildlife Department
Species including birds, deer and snakes are normally active this time of year. But with water sources drying up, many more animals are on the move and taking their young along as they search for resources.
This means folks in rural as well as urban environments may find themselves coming across adolescent animals that may appear to need human kindness and a Disney song.
Gone are the spring days of wobbly fawns and baby birds just out of their shells, yet these and other animals have only grown a few months. Most are still adolescents cared for by their mothers.
Young animals often stray and appear to be abandoned, and some may appear listless from the heat or lack of water.
But this is not the time to help out, wildlife experts say.
The fawning season begins in early to mid-May with fawns’ mottled coats hiding them from predators. As fawns mature, they shed these coats for a more adult color, causing them to catch the eye.
As drought conditions worsen across the state, animals are traveling greater distances and taking greater risks to find food and water. Because of this, many urban dwellers may spot adolescent birds, deer, armadillos, turtles and other wildlife in their daily walk to the car or office.
“Many people discover apparently lost or abandoned wildlife young and take them in, thinking they are doing the right thing, and this sometimes does more harm than good,” said Mark Klym of the Wildlife Diversity branch at the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department.
“People should leave young animals alone unless they are obviously injured or orphaned," he added. "It is best to observe a wild creature from a distance for a while in order to make that determination.”
Staying too close to the baby may keep mama from returning, Klym said.
The compulsion to aid or investigate an apparently stranded little animal can be overwhelming, but in doing so you could harm its chances of rejoining its caretaker. If adopted, even for a few days, animals may lose the skills necessary to fend for themselves in the wild.
“It’s true, a lot of these deer and other animals do not make it to adulthood,” said Alan Cain, TPWD whitetail deer program leader. “With the natural baseline for their natural habitat threatened from drought, many does cannot produce enough milk to support her fawn.”
Cain said 95 to 98 percent of does reproduce every year, but relatively few of these fawns make it to adulthood. He noted, however, that deer are highly reproductive animals that evolved to weather extreme droughts, and their populations can rebound quickly with the return of normal rainfall.
“It’s all a part of being a wild animal, but you cut a baby’s chance of survival way down if you interfere,” he said.
At Fossil Rim Wildlife Center, Executive Director Pat Condy said the staff is getting calls from people asking the center to come take young-looking animals that have hanging around houses or that seem unusually tame and "abandoned" by their mothers.
"We don’t do this, and hopefully this (TPWD) article helps explain why," Dr. Condy said.
In these drought conditions, you can expect native wildlife such as deer, raccoon, armadillo, skunk, rabbit, snake and wild pig to come feeding on the greenery, digging for insects or roots or looking for water from bird baths, leaking faucets, the sprayers on aerobic sewerage system, he added.
"Best is to just live with it, but be cautious since it is not out of the question that predators could also come in close after the prey animals," Dr. Condy advised. "Or it could be a rabid case - especially skunk and raccoon - seeing that rabies is more prevalent under these drought conditions."
Experts recommend securing house pets such as cats and dogs at night, preferably inside.
"If you see them showing interest in something such as a skunk or raccoon, get them away from it as it could be a rabid animal," Dr. Cody said. "Now would be a good time to have your pets vaccinated for rabies by your veterinarian, if not already done, and I would also recommend they get the rattle snake vaccination." If you or your pets come across a wild animal (especially a skunk) behaving abnormally, report it immediately to your vet or the Glen Rose city animal control officer at 254-897-3113.