Oh Deer!

One of the highlights of my rehab externship was participating in the two fawn round-ups. The Wildlife Center of Virginia is one of the few facilities in the state that will rehabilitate white-tailed deer fawns. There are two separate deer yards at the Wildlife Center; each yard holds about 15 fawns. By the time I arrived at the Center for my externship, the fawns were no longer being hand-fed but were being bottle-fed formula in racks located within their enclosure. The fawns were also fed buckets of pellets (deer food), apples (yes, I had to cut them up), acorns (yes, I had to go in the woods and pick them), and fresh browse (yes, I had to go in the woods and collect tree branches with leaves). With that being said, being on fawn duty was an all-day adventure but it was well worth it. The purpose of gathering multiple food sources was to try and mimic the diets of wild fawns, which would have their mothers to help them find the food. A majority of the fawns that are admitted to WCV are healthy orphans. People sometimes see a baby deer lying in the woods all by itself and automatically assume the mother has died or has abandoned them. Looks can be deceiving, because does will actually leave their fawns to avoid leading predators to their offspring. I would soon discover just how big and strong they were growing up to be.

I’m sure you’re wondering, just as I was, how do you gather up and release 15 fawns? The answer is the fawn round-up! I was fortunate enough to not only participate in one but two round-ups and releases! The eve of release day, the other externs and I were told to watch a YouTube video from a previous round-up, to get a sense of what we would be dealing with. After watching the video, we were all a little nervous, but I was wicked excited for the challenge of wrangling the little monsters.

The morning of the round-up we anxiously awaited for Dr. Kelli to recap how we actually go about catching the fawns. Everybody was paired up because one person was responsible for restraining the head and front legs, while their partner was responsible for controlling the back legs. Half of the group had bed sheets in their hands to hold up as “walls” to help corral the fawns into one corner of the yard. Everyone was told to walk with their legs close together and with their hands out wide. The purpose of this was to prevent the fawns from running between your legs or running past you. We had been warned that if they try to jump over you, let them go. Yep, that’s right. I had no idea that fawns can jump up to six feet high!

Once everyone was in the deer yard, we slowly made a human wall, pressing the fawns into one corner. Dr. Kelli said, “All right, somebody go get one!” I was partnered with a prior extern so he jumped right in and said, “Let’s go!” The last thing that these fawns wanted was to be caught, so they were running, jumping, and wriggling around in a tiny space. It was very important to catch them quickly, and once you had a fawn, you did not let go. My partner grabbed a fawn and had the head and front legs under control. I scooped one hand under the belly and grabbed the hind legs with my free hand, extending them outward to prevent both myself and the fawn from getting hurt. I had captured and restrained my first fawn! The first step was a success but then a cloth hood was placed over the fawns’ eyes to calm them down as much as possible. We had to carry the fawn down the steps, in between the education enclosures, and place them in a trailer that was waiting at the back of the Center. With our first fawn successfully in the trailer, we walked back up to catch another one as we were sweating and covered in deer fur. I ended up catching four fawns with my partner, and it was quite the adrenaline rush.

The reasoning behind our fawn round-up method is to try to prevent injury and minimize stress. A major concern for the round-up is triggering a condition called capture myopathy, which will occur if an animal is under extreme stress in attempts to be captured. Capture myopathy (also known as white muscle disease) is a condition in which an animal’s muscle cells use all of the available oxygen and switches to using stored energy in the cells, in order to continue functioning properly. If this process is prolonged, too much lactic acid will build up in the cells, causing them to rupture. All of the cell components will then enter the bloodstream and the large constituents end up getting stuck in the kidneys, resulting in kidney failure. Another side effect of bursting muscle cells is that the tissue becomes necrotic and dies. Usually, by the time the animal is showing signs of capture myopathy, it is too late to treat and it will ultimately be fatal. By cornering the fawns quickly, they have minimal space to run and it makes it easier for us to capture and restrain them efficiently. With multiple teams filing into the corner, one after another, the whole process only took less than 30 minutes to complete. All of our fawns were captured and released successfully!

--Kelsey G
WCV Class of 2016