We’ve been dreading making this announcement, but with fawn season fast approaching and the new rules becoming official today, we’ve unfortunately got to break this upsetting news.
We (and other rehabilitators in Tennessee) will no longer be allowed to to rehabilitate deer under any circumstances. This is true regardless of the deer’s age, condition, or location within the state. We know this sucks, but our state officials made these decisions with careful consideration for the animals’ welfare and the prevention of disease.
Ultimately, the main reason for this rule is that we’ve been seeing skyrocketing rates of chronic wasting disease, or CWD, which first entered the Western side of the state and is slowly inching eastward. CWD is a very serious disease that causes immense suffering to the deer and could harm their populations or even begin infecting our wild elk and domestic livestock if it doesn’t become contained. Transporting fawns across counties— or worse, across entire regions of the state— may seem like the compassionate thing to do in the moment, but the reality is that it has been spreading disease, and not doing much to help the deer.
Another issue is that many rehabilitators in Tennesee and elsewhere haven’t been able to get them as wild as they need to be. Deer that have been hand-raised by humans will often walk right up to hunters, putting themselves in danger. They can even be dangerous to humans— deer that have lost their fear of people may attack us when in rut.
This doesn’t mean there’s no hope at all for deer in need. Nearly all adult deer are hardy and resilient and can survive very serious injuries without our help. Nearly all fawns who appear to be orphaned are actually just fine, and have a mother who is returning soon. It’s more important than ever to simply leave these animals alone.
Even when a fawn is a true orphan, all hope is not lost. Deer are incredibly loving mothers who will frequently adopt unrelated orphans. Many truly orphaned fawns will get adopted if they’re simply left alone. A few may not make it, but that’s not always such a terrible thing, either. Grim as it may be, many of our native predators depend on fawns as a food source and need them as prey, in order to raise their own families.
Please leave deer alone in Tennessee even if they are alone or appear to be in distress. Their only chance of survival, now, depends on us giving them space.