Well-Intentioned but Ignorant Visitors put Grand Canyon Fawn at Risk

Well-Intentioned but Ignorant Visitors put Grand Canyon Fawn at Risk

Signs posted throughout the Grand Canyon warn visitors not to feed or approach wildlife, and rangers frequently give the same instructions to visitors. Nevertheless, many people violate these instructions, often as a result of ignorance about wildlife behavior. Such was the case one hot afternoon in late June when a couple arrived at the Grand Canyon’s Phantom Ranch Ranger Station carrying a fawn wrapped in a T-shirt—much to the dismay of a ranger on duty.

According to the couple, they were walking near a creek when the fawn approached them. The couple did not see the mother deer, and they became concerned that the young animal had been abandoned. They were also worried that the fawn was unable to take care of itself in the almost 110° heat. So they thought they would try to help by picking the baby deer up, swaddling it in a shirt, and bringing it to the ranger station.

At the station, the couple and fawn were greeted by ranger Della Yurcik. She became extremely upset as she determined what had happened, recalling a case from early May in which a bison calf at Yellowstone National Park was “rescued” by visitors. The father and son thought the calf was abandoned in the frigid weather and put it in their car. Yellowstone biologists repeatedly tried to return the calf to its herd, but the young bison’s mother kept rejecting it—as often happens after people interfere with animals in a herd. The rejected calf kept wandering up to people and cars at the park, posing a potential risk to visitors, so the Yellowstone biologists determined that the animal had to be euthanized.

Yurcik immediately told the couple at the Grand Canyon to put the fawn down, and she scolded them for their interference. She later told a reporter that park visitors need to understand that wildlife in national parks is supposed to remain wild. She explained that just because a young animal might approach visitors, the animal is not coming to them for help. Mother deer, elk, and bison commonly leave their young on their own for short periods. Furthermore, visitors have no right to interfere with wildlife—no matter how well-meaning their intentions. To do so is a crime.

The unauthorized public handling of wildlife in national parks is a Class B misdemeanor punishable by a $5000 fine and/or up to six months in jail or five years on probation.

Fortunately, the Grand Canyon incident had a happier outcome than the Yellowstone incident. Yurcik returned the fawn to the creek where it was found and wetted it down with a towel to minimize the human scent on the animal. Rangers observed the mother return to the calf that evening, and they observed the mother and fawn still together two days later.