Accustomed to humans, 11 deer may be euthanized

Washington state wildlife managers say 11 young deer at a licensed Thurston County rehabilitation center may have become too accustomed to humans to be released back into the wild. It's the same center where three fawns and an elk calf were euthanized last week for the same reason.

The Washington state Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) said in a statement that For Heaven’s Sake Animal Rescue and Rehabilitation in Rochester violated the terms of its state permit after an initial investigation. The center has thus been prohibited from caring for deer, elk, or other large animals.

WDFW says one of its specialists found no evidence of habituation during a visit in August, but a public tip led to a second visit in late September which revealed the problem.

“As soon as the two staff members entered the enclosure the fawns came right up to them and started nuzzling them for food,” Eric Gardner, head of the WDFW Wildlife Program, said in a statement. “The elk calf actually head-butted one of them in the hope of being fed.” 

The elk and three fawns were euthanized last Thursday.

Now, WDFW says it has to determine if the other deer have also become too tame to be released into the wild. If they can't, new homes need to be found for them, or they may need to be euthanized.

Six female fawns are now tentatively placed into a nutritional study at Washington State University. The other fawns have not yet been adopted. 

WDFW says state regulations and national standards urge euthanization of habituated animals rather than releasing them into the wild. Habituated animals are highly unlikely to survive in the wild, and can also pose a public threat. A habituated buck deer reportedly chased runners and gored two people during a marathon in Davenport, Wash., last month.

WDFW says the situation in Rochester could have been avoided if human contact was limited and if they had been weaned sooner. 

For Heaven's Sake defended itself on Facebook, saying, " The elk was lured with an apple and one little fawn approached. The others could not be caught because they wouldn't allow anyone to get near them and they ran. The accusation is that they are too habituated. They had only been weaned from taking bottles for two weeks. The rest that they took (3 other fawn...4 total and the elk calf) had to be darted and sedated to catch them. They said they would be back for the rest).

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