Baby animals are just the best. There's nothing like a little ball of fluff, curled up or prancing about. In fact, science has confirmed that the "cute response" is a natural process our brain goes through when seeing adorable animals, especially young ones that possess certain infantile characteristics we're ingrained to protect.

Naturally, any time you see a young animal you're going to feel that "Awww!" welling up inside, even if you don't say it out loud. But if you're lucky enough to spot one in the wild, put a brake on that instinct to stop, look, and think.

Elk calf and deer fawn season is upon us

May through July is the typical birthing season for wild deer and elk in the Pacific Northwest. That means that you're more likely to run across a young fawn (baby deer) or calf (baby elk), with or without their mother.

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It's actually not uncommon to encounter these animals in Washington. Deer are abundant across all of Washington, thriving along the edge of environments and along the river scapes. Elk are also found in most of Washington, with ten major herds spanning the state (see map below). Some, like the Yakima herd, span all the way into the Hanford and Richland area of Tri-Cities.

Illustrated map of major elk herds in Washington State
Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife
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Those babies probably aren't orphaned

One of the greatest mistakes people make when seeing a young animal in the wild is assuming that, since the mother isn't with them, they must be abandoned - and immediately go into rescue mode. This is one of the worst things you can do.

In the case of deer and elk, many mothers leave their young behind, hidden in grasses where they are naturally camouflaged, to search for food. These moms know where they left their baby, and will come back - to immense distress if the baby isn't there anymore.

The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife explains:

When people remove them from the wild, young animals miss the chance to learn where to seek cover, what to eat and how to escape from predators and other dangers. The time young animals spend with their parents and in their natural environment is crucial for the development of survival skills long term.

"But what if it is orphaned?" If in doubt, you should call a wildlife rehabilitator, animal control, or other wildlife agency before taking action. They can walk you through a series of questions and observations to help you determine if, and what, action might need to be taken.

Don't invoke the wrath of the wild momma

It's also important to note that if a wild animal feels threatened - especially if a mother feels their young are threatened - they will become defensive and at times, even aggressive, toward the threat.

Both deer and elk respond aggressively to dogs and have killed them in the past, so make sure you keep your pets leashed when outdoors. Elk are also particularly aggressive in general, and may suddenly charge or strike without warning. A recent example is a series of attacks in Estes Park, Colorado:

 

So remember to be safe around wildlife - especially moms. Keep your distance, keep your pets safe, and enjoy the moment for what it is.

LOOK: Washington State's 33 Endangered Species

There are endangered species everywhere in the world, but it can be hard to remember that some of them are close to home. Here are Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW)'s list of endangered species in the state, as last revised in February 2022.

Gallery Credit: Jaime Skelton

National Parks of Washington State

Washington State is home to 15 National Parks managed by the National Park Service. You might be surprised to know what some of these parks are!

Note: As one park site is sacred to the Nez Perce and discourages visitors, we have excluded it from the list below. Please respect all historic sites you may visit.

Gallery Credit: Jaime Skelton