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Nature finds a way
Wetland Explorer
Wetland Explorer deer
A crippled doe greets one of her fawns on a recent August morning, displaying how she holds the bad leg up and out of her way. A testament to the will to survive, she’s not only surviving but raising twin fawns.

She walked into my life late last summer. I was looking out the living room window, when a doe came to drink at the bird bath. Not an unusual occurrence at our house, but she was limping badly, hunching her back and jumping forward. Her right front leg flopped uselessly as she moved. There was no outward sign of injury. It had obviously healed, leaving a permanent impairment at the shoulder to the extent she seemed to have no control of the limb. It made me hurt to watch her and as much as I wanted to help, I knew there was nothing I could do and she had to make it on her own.

She paused to drink and after quenching her thirst, limped down the hill and off into the tall grass and trees across the drive. 

I thought that would be the last I’d see of her. Deer, like any prey animal dependent upon swift flight, survive by having four good legs.

She had other plans however, and a month later, she visited again. She seemed to have learned to move a little better with the bad limb and even hopped quickly when startled. Fall was upon us though, with hunting and breeding season approaching.

Miraculously she survived and I saw her twice during the winter. Then no sightings.

I assumed the worst but one evening a couple of weeks ago, movement out the window caught my attention and there she was at the water, drinking, using her bad leg as a crutch. So she had gained some control over the leg. Stunned she was still alive, I watched as she kept pausing to look up and toward the fragrant sumac along the edge of the yard.

Walking casually toward her was a fawn; then another appeared. She’d managed to birth and raise twins! They all looked healthy and well fed. The drama didn’t stop there however. Coming around the sumac, a young buck, sporting a small set of velveted antlers, arrived to drink. He nuzzled the fawns, seeming to be a part of the family unit. An older son perhaps, hanging with the family unit?

Grazing on the oak leaves from a fallen branch, the sumac and grass, they gradually worked their way around the yard perimeter. Distinct with her lurching gait, she moved out of sight to continue her life.

Against all odds, this doe survived a crippling injury and reproduced, demonstrating an amazing will to live. An unusual story because injured animals usually become food for others or perish quietly. That’s the natural order of things, which is hard for humans to accept.

We want to help and it can be hard not to assist but often the animals we think need help don’t. Does leave fawns for hours at a time, while they feed or drink. Rabbits do the same thing. When humans come upon fawns and kittens – the name for baby rabbits – they often think they’re orphaned and need rescued. Resist! Does and rabbits make much better parents for their young than humans.

Take cottontail rabbits for instance. Rabbits have two types of feces, the familiar round, dry feces and a softer feces termed night feces, which they eat as it’s expelled to obtain a community of bacteria and fungi that provide essential nutrients. Baby rabbits need this special feces from their mother to survive. Some may live without the nutrition night feces provides, but they will not thrive.

This is why we do NOT conduct rehabilitation at KWEC. It takes a tremendous amount of time and knowledge. So the next time you’re tempted to interfere with Mother Nature, think twice. That doe’s out there reminding us animals can survive through their own toughness and resourcefulness without our assistance.