(Story by Lila Travis, Director Yggdrasil Wildlife Center) – On May 17th, 2006, a call came in to our wildlife center from the Oakland Animal Shelter. They had just received an amazing little baby wild animal who needed care. It was a first for the Oakland Animal Shelter – a deer fawn was brought in by a concerned member of the community. According to the family who found the fawn, they were driving through Marin when they parked at a rest-stop along the highway. A baby deer fawn walked up to them on wobbly knees, bleating for help. They scooped her up and drove her all the way back to their home in Oakland and left her in the capable hands of the Oakland Animal Control officers and volunteers.
When I arrived at the Oakland Animal Shelter, they had the sweet little one all wrapped up in a warm blanket and were comforting her as she hungrily rooted around necks and ear-lobes for a nipple to nurse from. She was only 4 days old and still wobbly on her feet, with soft hooves and floppy ears. She was somewhat dehydrated and thin but was in good shape, eager for food and comforts. I held her while Megan Webb retrieved a carrier for me to take her home in and once her carrier was buckled onto my car, we drove away. I got 2 blocks before I had to pull over – she little fawn was standing up in her carrier, hitting the door, and bleating so loudly as to be alarming. I opened the carrier and she tumbled out and curled up to sleep in my lap. She stayed in my lap the entire drive home.
In the wild, baby deer have very close relationships with their mothers. When they are able to see their mother, their instinct is to stay very close to her, follow her around like a shadow, until told to do otherwise by mom. When mother deer go off to forage for food, they leave their babies for long periods. Fawns have the instinct to stay very still and quiet when mother is not around. Baby deer have no scent when they are very young, so as long as they are still and quiet, predators won’t find them as they hide and wait for mother’s return. The little baby was able to see me while I was driving and all of her instincts told her to get as close to me as possible for food and comfort. That is why she cried and threw herself at the carrier door.
Once we arrived back at the wildlife center, my husband was struck by how tiny she was. He jokingly pointed out the she was so small she would easily fit in our largest soup pot, but would someday grow to be a huge doe weighing well over one hundred pounds! We started calling her “Pot Of Soup” and it became her name while she was with us.
For the next 2 weeks, Pot of Soup followed me everywhere I went. She guzzled down 4 bottles of Black-Tailed Deer baby formula every day and when I was able to sneak away without her seeing, she would nestle down on one special corner of the couch and stay very still and quiet until my return. Once, as if to emphasize her following instinct, she heard me moving around in the lower floor of the wildlife center – the living quarters. She started crying and ran downstairs just as I was about to close the bathroom door for my shower. She was so distraught at being separated that I relented and let her stay in the bathroom with me while I showered. I did not expect her to actually leap over the bathtub and huddle under the water next to my legs. That was a shock, but it reinforced to me again how needful fawns are of reassurance from their surrogate mothers, although, nothing like this had occurred with previous fawns we had worked with. Pot of Soup was special.
Working in Wildlife Rehabilitation, one of the primary rules we always apply to caring for our wild friends is that we never raise them alone. If we have only 1 squirrel baby, we put out the call to other wildlife centers that we are looking for a companion animal to raise with our single. The reason we do this is if you raise the orphan alone, the animal does not learn the necessary body-language it needs to know to be able to interact with members of it’s own species. This is true of all animals, including humans. With pets, it is encouraged, to aid in the bonding with humans. But with Wildlife, when the goal is to release them back into the wild, it is very important to provide companionship for the animal so that it is able to have healthy interaction with members of it’s own species once it is released and it does not look to humans for that reassurance. For these reasons we were on the lookout for a companion for Pot of Soup.
Soon, a call came in from another wildlife center in Marin County. They had a newborn fawn who needed care and they asked if we would raise him with Pot of Soup. Off to Marin we went to pick up the little boy. He was about 12 hours old. His ears were floppy and his hooves were light and soft. He weighed just under 5 pounds! His facial markings were so distinct – black eyebrows blazing up his forehead to where his antlers would someday be. A true prince of the Forest. We called him Bombadil.
In the wild, Deer mothers always be pregnant with only one fawn the first year of their reproductive life. From the second year on, they usually will give birth to twins. These twins will live with mother for the first year of their lives until they are chased off when she becomes pregnant again. Often the females will stay together for years. We do not know if Pot of Soup or Bombadil were from first-year mothers or if they had had siblings, but they took to each other and bonded so quickly. When they first met, they approached each other and sniffed noses, then immediately cuddled up as though they were true siblings. When they got older and steadier on their feet, they would frolic and bounce around the room, chasing each other.
Soon they were old enough to start eating solid food along with their 3X daily bottles. We would bring them outside into a 40’ pen we constructed for them, where they would frolic for a time, before nestling down in a thicket to await my arrival with a new bottle for them to enjoy. Before long, they were eating plum leaves and apple branches. I was frantic to provide them with fresh cut branches every day. Our neighbors were very accommodating. Pot of Soup and Bombadil stole the hearts of everyone who saw them.
By the time they were both approaching 2 months of age, it became clear that they were ready for the next stage in their training to be wild deer. Up until then, we had been concerned mainly with keeping them fed, fattening them up and keeping them happy. Now it was time for the real job to begin. They needed to learn what it really meant to be a deer and that was something we couldn’t teach them. It was time for them to leave their baby home and move to a ranch where they would learn from one amazing woman and 3 other deer, what they would need to survive in the great big world.
Susan Sasso has been rehabilitating deer for many years through Wildcare, the Wildlife Rehabilitation center for Marin County. Susan has a ranch in Olema, CA where she raises these fawns in safe meadow-sized enclosures where they are able to learn the sights, sounds, and smells of living free.
The day came and we took them on their last car ride with us, to Susan’s ranch. She was prepared for Pot of Soup and Bombadil and within an hour of their arrival they were wandering around in an outside pen, enjoying grasses and leaves, smelling the other deer through the door, and frolicking happily in the meadow they now had to enjoy. We left them in Susan’s capable hands and drove home.
The house was too quiet.
However, with regular updates from Susan, we learned that Pot of Soup and Bombadil were able to integrate into the group of 3 other fawns Susan was caring for. They were happy and were growing huge! We learned that Pot of Soup was becoming very independent and that both of them were more interested in the other deer than in contact with their human caregiver, as it should be.
Soon the call came in that there was another infant fawn in need of care. Susan asked if we would like to raise this little one until he was old enough to join Pot of Soup and Bombadil and the others on her ranch. Of course we said YES!
Little Pip was only 3 pounds. He was so tiny. The story was that he had been wandering around in the streets of Novato, drinking out of the gutter and crying out for his mother to find him. It was so late in the year – the wrong time for baby deer to be this small. His plight recalled Dickens to me so we named him Pip.
Pip grew fast. He was much more independent than Pot of Soup and Bombadil had been, which was a good thing because he was alone with no one of his own species to play with. Soon he was ready to join his adopted family at Susan’s ranch. He was the youngest but once he found his place in the herd, he would frolic and play with the others as if he had always been with them.
In November, all 6 fawns were taken to a beautiful creek-side meadow on a thousand-acre ranch, and released. Susan and the ranchers watched over them for their first week of freedom. They are doing well, living the wild lives they were born to lead.
They were anesthetized and driven to their new home.
A reverser was administered and they were coaxed to their feet. Susan watched over them until they were steady. Soon they were all on their feet and able to explore their new home.
Pot of Soup is located in the back Right of this picture.
Since their release, they have been checked on weekly and are doing very well.
Thank you to everyone who had even the smallest part in this story.
You all worked to save these lives. Good Job!
The story of their release was photographed by a journalist and is viewable on this website: http://www.sparselysageandtimely.com/blog/?p=5