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Deer Friends

Want to help wildlife? Leave the deer alone and go to the Sept. 16 benefit for Gila Widlife Rescue instead.

 

Dennis Miller just tried to deliver two fawns by C-section and he isn't happy about it. Miller, founder of Gila Wildlife Rescue in Silver City (see "The Call of the Wild," August 2005 Desert Exposure), succeeded in extracting the two baby deer from the womb of their dying mother, who had been hit by a car. But neither survived, adding to the death toll on the roads around Silver City.

 

Why does a deer cross the road? Miller says the answer is simple — and no joke. Deer like the stricken doe are lured into danger — for themselves and unwary drivers — by people who set out feed for them.

"People think they're doing the deer a favor, but there's plenty of natural food," Miller says. "The deer like the sweet feed more than the natural, so they cross the road and get hit. People are tempting them and putting them in mortal danger."

Miller, one of only two wildlife rehabilitators in New Mexico licensed to work with all types of birds and animals, is passionate about the work he began 27 years ago. He and his wife Denise put not only their time but much of their own money into the nonprofit Gila Wildlife Rescue, which operates entirely on donations. No funds are used for administrative costs or to pay any salaries; Dennis Miller's "day job" is teaching biology at WNMU.

"The number of animals has increased to over 200 each year, so the cost of caring for them has increased as well," he says. "The funds donated are used directly for food, medications, medical supplies and the purchase, maintenance and building of cages, deer pens and flight cages. Plans for this fall are to build a second flight cage to be used for large birds of prey including eagles."

To help defray those costs, Gila Wildlife Rescue will hold a fundraiser Sept. 16 at the Twisted Vine in Silver City. Entitled "A Musical Walk on the Wild Side," the event will feature five local musical groups.

 

Ordinarily, the animals Miller is concerned for range as widely as the music at this month's fundraiser. This time of year, though, he especially worries about deer.

It's not just deer being lured across roadways by unwise feeding. With fawns being born from late July through the end of August, there's a second opportunity for misplaced and misguided human kindness: picking up "abandoned" fawns.

In fact, the lone fawns often seen this time of year have not been abandoned at all. For the first week or two, Miller explains, a newborn fawn has a neutral scent that doesn't attract predators. So the mother — which is in constant danger of predation — leaves the fawn while it goes off to forage for food. Not until the fawn is strong enough to have a chance of running away from predators is it safe to accompany the mother deer.

"Humans are the only ones that abandon their babies," Miller says.

Well-intentioned but uninformed people often "rescue" the fawns. Miller tells of a person who brought a boot box into a local veterinary office, muttered, "Found a puppy," and hurried away. Inside was a fawn. Miller sighs sadly and adds, "If we know where it came from, we can try to return it, but this person left without telling anybody."

Sometimes people will attempt to care for an apparently motherless fawn themselves, giving it milk from the grocery store. But fawns require a special kind of milk and very specific diet, Miller warns. Regular milk gives them a diarrhea condition that's difficult to treat and can prove fatal.

"The person may have intended well," he says, "but winds up causing more pain and suffering. The fawn can die a slow, painful death."

Besides, he notes, it's illegal to care for a fawn without a special permit such as he has.

While it's not illegal to feed deer, Miller adds, it is illegal to cause a nuisance animal by feeding it. And the number of nuisance deer — like the number of deer-automobile collisions — has been escalating. "It's steadily gotten worse," he says. "I'd like to stop it before someone is killed."

He acknowledges that most of this is a result of well-meaning people who are interested in wildlife. "But they're not doing the deer any favors," Miller says. "If you want to see deer, go see them out in the wild. Don't bait them into your yard. If you really do care about deer, you'll stop picking up fawns and stop feeding them.

"It's not a deer problem," he adds. "It's a people problem."

— David A. Fryxell

 

"A Musical Walk on the Wild Side," a fundraising benefit for Gila Wildlife Rescue, will be held Sept. 16 at the Twisted Vine, 108 Broadway in Silver City, 388-2828. Musical entertainment includes the Low Bid Quartet featuring Scott Van Linge, Ed Teja and Greg Renfro at 4 p.m.; Silver Blue Roots featuring Edie Steed at 5 p.m.; Wally Lawder and the Flying Coyotes at 6 p.m.; Rhythm Mystic at 7 p.m.; and Brandon Perrault and Friends at 8 p.m., followed by a jam session. Photos of rescued animals and their stories will be featured, T-shirts and hats will be for sale, a raffle for various merchandise will he held, and local artists will provide painted and decorated bottles of wine. Non-alcoholic beverages will also be available. Admission is $10 per person and all proceeds go to the nonprofit Gila Wildlife Rescue. For information on the event or Gila Wildlife Rescue, call 590-0118.


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