Biologist urges Fort Knox community to let nature handle wildlife

By Eric PilgrimSeptember 13, 2023

Biologist urges Fort Knox community to let nature handle wildlife
Fawns can appear virtually anywhere on post because that is often where their mothers have left them to have time to eat. Wildlife biologist Jimmy Watkins is asking folks to leave the fawns alone in those cases. Picking them up and handling them not only creates stress for a doe looking for her baby, it also puts a human scent on the fawn, which can make it more susceptible to discovery and attack by predators. (Photo Credit: Eric Pilgrim, Fort Knox News archive image) VIEW ORIGINAL

FORT KNOX, Ky. — But they’re so cute, they’re hurt; they’re abandoned!

These and other responses are all too familiar to Jimmy Watkins, wildlife biologist at the Fort Knox Natural Resources Branch, who is often on the receiving end of an animal rescue by some good Samaritan. He’s seen and heard it all before.

“The most common animals affected are deer fawns in the spring,” said Watkins. “People see them laying in the grass. They’re bundled up or laying in a little ball, and people think they’re injured or abandoned. That’s not the case; their mama positioned them while she went off to feed.

“She’ll come back every hour or two, or three or four – or longer – then nurse them and leave them again.”

This alone time is not a threat to the fawns, unless humans decide to get involved. And many times, said Watkins, they do.

“People always call, or they go up and pick them up, which is the worst thing you can do,” said Watkins.

Older deer have speed and agility on their side to evade capture by predators. Newborn fawns don’t, but they have other defense mechanisms, according to Watkins, that are designed to be just as effective.

“Their instinct is to lay down and be still, and for that first couple of weeks nature has also given them not as much of a scent,” said Watkins. “That’s their protective mechanism.”

So, when humans decide to intervene, they inadvertently destroy that mechanism.

“When fawns are handled by humans, the human scent gets on them, and it piques the interest of foxes or coyotes,” said Watkins. “They want to then go and investigate. It’s better not to touch them.”

Watkins and others try to regularly get the word out about not handling wildlife at Fort Knox. They often post information and articles to warn folks. Still, situations continue to happen.

“We’ve been driving down the road and have seen people holding the fawns up, getting their picture taken with them,” said Watkins. “That’s just not the wisest thing to do.”

There are fawns that do occasionally get injured, however. One fawn recently was discovered by a passerby.

“Something had gotten to it and tore its chest up, and down the side of its face it was bleeding,” said Watkins. “In that case, we took it to a wildlife rehab group. That’s usually a last resort. Once it’s been rehabbed, the group lets it go on their farm.”

The rehab facility, in Meade County, receives an average of 30 to 40 fawns each year.

“For many of these fawns, nothing is wrong with them,” said Watkins; “people just thought they were abandoned.”

Biologist urges Fort Knox community to let nature handle wildlife
The Fort Knox Natural Resources Branch offers tips and advice on ways to discourage confrontations with wildlife. (Photo Credit: Illustration by Eric Pilgrim, Fort Knox News) VIEW ORIGINAL

In the case of injury, Watkins said it is best to call somebody. For Knox Hills residents, that number is 502-799-6565. Those working in the cantonment area should call in a service order at 502-624-1171.

Deer fawns are not the only animals being affected by human contact.

Watkins said raccoons are often seen rummaging in dumpsters and trash cans, as well as opossums, gray squirrels, coyotes, foxes, and even some skunks. Baby birds that fall out of nests are often being handled by humans. Watkins said lately, they have also been getting calls about foxes.

Watkins is asking people to keep one thought at the forefront of their mind.

“In most cases, just keep your distance; stay away,” said Watkins. “More than likely, they will wander off and won’t be an issue.”