A visit to For Heaven’s Sake Animal Rescue and Rehabilitation in Rochester by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife earlier this month appears to have left the gate open to salvation for some of the 11 deer who were previously slated for euthanization after wildlife officials deemed them “too friendly” for wild release.
A public post on the For Heaven’s Sake Facebook page, which is managed by owner Claudia Supensky, from Jan. 13 reads in part:
“We were visited by WDFW on Monday, January 8. The deer were frightened by the presence of humans in the area. The two very small fawn who had received special attention early on due to not thriving well, were able to be cornered and eventually, with lots of effort, approached. This does not mean they are habituated because had they not been fenced in, they would have ran, kept going, and not been caught.”
The post also noted that the evaluation is part of an agreement to allow WDFW to inspect the deer for their eligibility to be used in an ungulate study at Washington State University. That deal, which allows the young deer to remain at the facility until March 16, was struck after a WDFW action at the rescue in November resulted in the euthanization of three fawns and one elk calf that had been categorized as “habituated” by the WDFW. The 11 remaining deer fled into the nearby woods and the WDFW abandoned their effort to eliminate the entire herd. That drastic action resulted in a loud outcry from the general public as well as the wildlife rehabilitation community that included an impassioned round of public testimony at a Fish and Wildlife Commission meeting in Olympia.
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The inspection on Jan. 8 was the first of three that were agreed to by For Heaven’s Sake and the WDFW, and although the rescue did not return multiple calls for comment, their Facebook post left the impression that they were at least moderately encouraged by the showing.
“I feel that it went pretty well. We did have one of the fawn run into a fence in her panic to get away, and I was afraid she had broken her neck but she jumped back up and ran,” a post reads.
Eric Gardner, head of the WDFW wildlife program, told The Chronicle that the inspection was routine and failed to raise any serious red flags, but he stopped short of providing any predictions for what the ultimate outcome will be for the rescued deer in question.
“A couple of people from our staff and a couple of people who were associated with For Heaven’s Sake looked into the pens and examined the animals and the protocol based on the advice of the vet to see if they would be eligible for this WSU study,” said Gardner. “I think based on our time there that the majority of the animals will not be eligible for the program. They are not all so tame that they just walk up to anyone but there were two that are a possibility.”
Therein lies the catch-22 for the deer at For Heaven’s Sake. They must now prove to be either so habituated that they are not bothered by the presence of humans at all, or, they must be able to prove over the next three months that they have developed enough natural instinct to warrant a wild release. To date, efforts by WDFW to find a home for the deer at any other sanctuary or zoo has proven fruitless.
“I can’t really speculate at this time but we did have those two (fawns). It wasn’t so obvious that we knew the answer right away,” said Gardner. “For WSU they have a study where individuals that the deer don’t know routinely get into the pen and get very close to the animals to observe them feed. They are up close and personal and they need to be able to get that close to the animals without changing the deer’s behavior.”
Not only do the deer have to be both docile and unconcerned by humans to be eligible for the WSU study, but they also must be female.
“It’s a very high bar,” admitted Gardner.
Gardner said it is unlikely that WDFW representatives will use all three of their allotted visits to the wildlife rescue in Rochester before making their determination on the eligibility of any of the fawns to find a new home in Pullman.
“I’m not sure that all of that is necessary. We will probably make our decision based on what we know now and it would either be nothing, or we would make another visit to facility for the transfer of those animals to WSU,” said Gardner.
Any deer that fail to prove their academic merit will then likely be left with no other option than to wild out for their freedom.
“Absent being able to place any deer with WSU, per our agreement with For Heaven’s Sake, they will continue to overwinter those deer, apparently how they have in past years, and then we will collectively evaluate those deer in the spring and make a judgment then as to what will happen at that time,” explained Gardner. “I think we are all hoping that they will be eligible for release at some level.”