If so, she will be one of the very few wild animals lucky enough to survive a close encounter with humans. But even with survival, the odds that Skittles will ever re-enter normal life with a wild deer herd are virtually zero.
Skittles’ close relationship with humans began about a month ago when the two-week-old fawn’s mother was killed by a motorist on McClure Pass.
The woman from Texas who was driving the vehicle and her four children who were with her spotted the fawn and brought it with them to Delta.
The Texas woman was unaware of the extreme danger she could have been placing herself and her children in by picking up the fawn. The risk to humans from exposure to virulent parasites and other pathogens is a serious concern, and one that anyone wanting to “save wildlife” needs to be aware of.
There are also Colorado laws prohibiting the unlicensed possession of wildlife.
If the woman had called the DOW before taking possession the fawn, as is always advised, she would have probably been told to leave it alone and that a properly equipped and trained DOW officer would handle the matter.
Sometimes, particularly in the case of an injured animal, it is best to let nature take its own course.
Along the way to Delta the Texas woman managed to get in touch with the Division of Wildlife which dispatched wildlife rescue volunteer Ken Wagner of Delta to a rendezvous at the Safeway store parking lot and take possession of the animal.
Wagner, whose daughter-in-law christened the young animal “Skittles,” is a retired DOW officer with 40 years in the field who now helps out on a volunteer basis in the wildlife rescue program.
Wagner set up a second rendezvous that morning. This one would take place at the parking lot of Olathe bank where Wagner handed Skittles off to Brenda Miller, who runs Roubideau Rim Wildlife Rescue located at a ranch way out west of Olathe.
Miller, who refers to the young deer simply as “the fawn” says, “We don’t give the animals names. It gives the wrong impression. They aren’t pets.”
Miller has been a wildlife rehab volunteer for 12 years. She holds both a federal license to care for migratory birds and a DOW state license to care for everything except bears and mountain lions, which she will begin taking in once she can build sufficiently strong enclosures to hold them.
Miller, upon first seeing Skittles, was encouraged about her chances at least for survival. “The fawn looks really good. It is in very good condition, and it’s nice to get one like that for a change,” she said.
Often, the public will encounter wildlife that has been injured, and Miller said that she has been called on to take in even cat-attacked birds, which have virtually no chance of survival.
People shouldn’t touch injured or sick wildlife because of the danger of contracting disease infection or parasites, Miller warns. If people are truly concerned about a situation they are strongly advised, and in some cases they are legally obligated, to contact the DOW first and let trained personnel decide what to do.
“Don’t pick them up. Let us decide how to handle the situation,” Miller advises wildlife lovers who would sometimes unintentionally “love a critter to death.”
It will sound unkind to many people, but also sometimes it is the very best thing just to let nature take its own course, and DOW wildlife officers are best qualified to make that determination, Miller explains.
At the Olathe bank rendezvous, Skittles was transferred into a transport tote and given a meal of goat’s milk. As the little fawn appeared to calm down, Miller prepared for the trip to Skittles’ new home west of Olathe.
Miller didn’t have any other fawns at her place when Skittles came along. Deer are social animals, she says, and they need to be around their own kind.
A wild animal like Skittles that is cared for by, and grows up in the care of, humans has very poor odds of ever reintegrating with a wild herd. That, Miller explains, is because they don’t have the chance to learn the “appropriate body language” and other herd animal social behaviors that make them part of a specific group of animals.
At Roubideau Rim, Skittles liked to hide in the tall grass during the day. “The fawn comes back out late afternoon or early evening to be fed. I have not been able to keep her in the orchard, she keeps getting out. She is being transferred at the end of the month to another rehabber who has some fawns. They are herd animals and require the company of their own kind. It’s very difficult for them to join up with wild deer, even when raised together – they are socially inept.
“Sometimes they will leave, and then come back multiple times until one day they just don’t come back anymore,” Miller said.
Sometimes a captive raised deer will join with a wild herd, but then stay off at a distance, like a shunned outsider.
Other times they will just stay around humans when grown, and that can lead to more problems for the animal. It is rare when one completely reintegrates with a wild herd.
But even though there difficulties sometimes, there are many success stories, too. Miller takes care of other wildlife at Roubideau Rim. She recently released a flock of geese back into the wild on some private land nearby. “I still have five raccoons, with the youngest at 3 months. I’ve cared for raptors, deer, waterfowl, raccoon, fox, elk antelope, just whatever comes along,” she said.
Miller began her wildlife rescue career 12 years ago in the Frasier/Winter Park area. She needed the sponsorship of a licensed rescuer to get started, and found one. But her career actually started long before that.
“Even when I was a little kid I was always bringing home critters. I just always loved them and wanted to do it,” she explains.
People in suburban and rural areas can help keep wildlife out of trouble by not leaving trash out or uncovered, by not leaving pet food out where it is accessible to wildlife, and by a few other common sense precautions.
“Don’t throw trash out, and don’t leave your trash and pet food out and available to attract wildlife,” she advises.
Miller has applied for non-profit status so she can accept tax-deductible donations for her work, which is volunteer and not compensated.