Eleven young deer at a south Thurston County wildlife rehabilitation center are being evaluated to see whether they have become too habituated to humans, the state Department of Fish and Wildlife announced Monday.
The evaluations come after an elk calf and three fawns were euthanized last week. Wildlife officials determined the animals that were being cared for at For Heaven’s Sake Animal Rescue and Rehabilitation in Rochester had become too dependent on humans.
Claudia and David Supensky, who have been licensed to run the Rochester facility since 2010, could not be reached Monday. A voicemail message said they are “not taking any new animals at this time.”
“This is a tough situation for everyone involved,” said Eric Gardner, head of the Wildlife Program for Fish and Wildlife, in a statement. “The department licenses wildlife rehabilitators to prepare sick, injured and orphaned animals for release back into the wild, but those animals have virtually no chance of surviving if they become habituated to humans.”
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State regulations and national wildlife rehabilitation standards direct wildlife managers to euthanize habituated animals rather than release them into the wild, according to a news release.
Of the 11 young deer being evaluated, six female fawns have tentatively been placed in a nutritional study at Washington State University. No other qualified facilities have agreed to take the remaining animals.
The problem was discovered in September when two wildlife officials, operating on a tip, showed up unannounced at the Rochester location and “found significant problems with human habituation.”
Gardner said Monday that the animals came up to the two officials and it was “play with me, scratch me and feed me.”
On Sept. 28, For Heaven’s Sake was told they would not be permitted to take deer and elk again until the matter is resolved. As for smaller animals, the state wants to hear from the Supenskys if they plan to provide rehabilitation services.
“We are uncertain if they desire that or not,” Gardner said in an email.
Wildlife officials visited the site again on Nov. 9 and discovered that the elk and three fawns “had lost their fear of humans.” Those animals were tranquilized on site and euthanized at a separate location, Gardner said.
Washington state is home to 31 licensed wildlife rehabilitation facilities; 25 are in Western Washington. Most are nonprofits, including the Rochester location. On average, each facility is visited annually by a wildlife official. A problem will prompt more visits.
Deer and other animals often wind up at these facilities because they are removed from the wild by people who mistakenly believe they have been abandoned by their parents, Gardner said in a statement.