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White-tailed deer as pets is a bad idea and illegal

From Delaware Dept. of Natural Resources & Environmental Control

-- Recent Fish and Wildlife Enforcement calls resulted from three separate incidents in which white-tailed deer were either kept as pets illegally or raised by people and then released to roam free resulted in injuries to three people, one who was a child.

In each case, the animals had been living in the wild but had lost natural wariness of humans and would readily approach, looking for food.

“Wild animals are just that – wild. Yet people will still take them home or try to care for them when they are young or injured,” said Joe Rogerson, wildlife biologist. “Unless you are a trained and permitted wildlife rehabilitator, you cannot legally keep a white-tailed deer. If you encounter what you think is an injured or abandoned deer, contact the Division of Fish and Wildlife before attempting to approach or handle the animal. Also, please do not feed deer to try to domesticate them.”

Under Delaware law individuals who try to rescue a deer may face penalties. “Not only is removing a fawn or adult deer from its natural habitat not in its best interest, it is also illegal for an individual in Delaware to possess a live white-tailed deer without a permit issued by the Division of Fish and Wildlife,” according to Sgt. Gregory Rhodes, Fish and Wildlife Enforcement.

Wildlife rehabilitators are trained to handle the wild creatures under their care, and know to expect instinctive responses such as an animal striking out if it feels threatened. Overall, however, research has shown that deer cared for by people – even trained rehabilitators – have a greatly decreased chance of survival once they are released back into the wild, especially if they were taken into captivity as fawns.

“Fawns raised in the wild are able to learn survival instincts from their mothers that people simply can’t teach them,” Rogerson said. “The bottom line is, if you really care about the deer and its well being, please leave the animal alone. A deer will have a greater chance at survival if you don’t take it home or try to domesticate it.”

For more information about white-tailed deer, call Rogerson at (302)739-9912. To report suspected wildlife violations, call Fish and Wildlife Enforcement’s 24 hour dispatch center at (302)739-4580. 

“Tips from the general public help initiate a lot of our investigations, and can be helpful to address matters such as deer being kept illegally as pets. Individuals wanting to remain anonymous with their tip may do so,” Sgt. Rhodes added.

If found guilty of violating the law, an offense is punishable by a fine not less than $250, up to $1,000, plus prosecution and court costs. The person may also be imprisoned for up to 30 days.

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