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Let's say you are out for a walk with your little daughter. Strolling around you suddenly hear sounds of joy from her. As you turn around she's happily petting a (roe deer) fawn laying in the grass.

What to do (not from the pedagogy point of view ;) )?

Is it possible to neutralize the "human smell" somehow? If not, who would be the right person to contact?


This question is really not about why one shouldn't touch a fawn. Let's just agree that we shouldn't do it for whatever reason. The question is about the actions to take to revoke such a possible "accident".

Just a few references to prove that you really shouldn't touch a fawn:

From Wildlife in Crisis:

Do not touch the fawn! This could cause the mother to reject it.

From Native Animal Rescue:

Fawns are born scent-free and have white camouflage spots which protect them from predators. The doe continues to keep her babies scent free by consuming her fawns urine and droppings. This is yet another reason why humans should never touch a fawn. Leaving human scent on their body will attract predators to the fawn.

Here's a German reference which I want to share:

Typisch für junge Kitze ist ein Geruch nach saurer Milch und Harn. Die Milch gelangt auf das Fell der Kitze, wenn sie sich nach dem Saugen belecken, da sie meist im Liegen harnen, ist ihr Fell außerdem mit Harn benetzt.[134] Zwischen der dritten und fünften Woche endet die Prägungsphase zwischen Kitz und Muttertier, die nicht mehr rückgängig zu machen ist.

From Wikipedia

Freely interpreted it says:

Typical for a young fawn is a smell of sour milk and urine. The milk get onto fawns' fur when they lick themselves after sucking. As they usually urinate while lying down, their fur is also wetted. Between the third and fifth week, the embossing phase (imprint phase/conditioning phase) between fawn and mother ends and cannot be undone.

  • I have heard that a lot too, that you should not touch wild animals babies because the mother would reject them. To me that makes no sense at all. There are a lot of reason why the newborn would smell something different, and I don't see why it would be rejected. – njzk2 Dec 11 '15 at 17:26
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I have read that a Mother will not abandon the fawn even if it is touched by a human.

Fawns are odorless for first few weeks, that way they cannot be smelled by predators. But if touched by a human, when the mother gets to it, it will smell the human odor, sense danger and will change the fawn's hiding location, if it is still caring for the fawn along with licking the human smell off its body to keep it away from predators

If the fawn is abandoned it won't be accepted by its mother anyways. Fawns are occasionally abandoned for many reasons. Its mother might have been killed, or she might have had more than one offspring. In this case she will not bond with the weakest of the fawns.

Based on where you are, you may contact Animal Rescue or Rehabilitation Center, if you find an abandoned Fawn in critical condition

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    Do you have any references? As far as I know the problem is the "imprint phase"/"conditioning phase" (don't really know the right English word =)) where the deer is linked to its fawn. If it smells different this process is interrupted and the fawn probably lost. – OddDeer Dec 2 '15 at 6:34
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    References: fawns should be immediately returned to the exact location where they were found and the left alone. The mother will return and always take her baby back. If however you do not leave the fawn alone, the doe will not return to her baby as she will sense danger. Once she senses the potential danger is gone, she will then rejoin her young. nativeanimalrescue.org/understanding-deer If the doe is still caring for the fawn, she will lick the human scent off at the next feeding. fawncare.com – Captain Dec 2 '15 at 6:53
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    :) One of your references has exactly the answer to my question: "Leaving human scent on their body will attract predators to the fawn. If you have touched a fawn and are returning the fawn to the place where found, please do the following: (...)" – OddDeer Dec 2 '15 at 8:51
  • Thanks for your input :) However, I've down-voted your answer cause it doesn't really answer the question. I'm not asking "why" you shouldn't touch a fawn but "what to do" if you've done it. Please check out my question again. I've reworked it to make things a little bit more clear. – OddDeer Dec 2 '15 at 10:41
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    I have not answered to why not to touch a fawn anyways :) . Good question though. Hope you get your answer:) – Captain Dec 2 '15 at 10:51
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Please also note Captain's answer. First of all he's describing how to avoid touching deer in the first place (what should be of course the way to go), second he came up with some nice references (which pointed me in the right direction here).

The best thing to do is always to call the responsible authority. These authorities, however, differ from region to region. Think about it as "What's your local native animal rescue?" and call them for advice.

Actually you can react surprisingly well to such a case. These are the recommended steps to take:

  • Put on rubber gloves and get a towel
  • Rub the towel in the grass then wipe the fawnʼs body with that towel to remove human scent
  • Leaving the gloves on, return the fawn to the place where found. Now the fawn is once again scent-free and waiting for mom to return

From "Understanding Deer"

Wildlife in Crisis approves:

If the fawn has already been "handled", wipe the fawn off with a clean towel rubbed with dirt, put on a clean pair of gloves, and return the fawn to the site of origin.

Make sure that you don't carry the fawn to the tools but the tools to the fawn. The doe might come back and should definitely still find her child.

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    This would often mean going home and collecting such items, or possibly having them with you already, which for rubber gloves etc would not necessarily be a common idea. In that time mum could have returned and moved the fawn, or abandoned it entirely. I would say if you accidentally touch a fawn, call the recommended authorities in your area. Clean is also subjective as human washing powders are usually perfumed, so you'd be potentially adding another scent to the mix. It may not be 'scent free' it'll likely just be scent masked. – Aravona Dec 2 '15 at 11:38
  • @Aravona added a paragraph regarding this topic – OddDeer Dec 2 '15 at 11:43

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