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By feeding orphaned deer through a bottle rack, California Wildlife Center staff reduce the likelihood of the animal imprinting on a human. Cambria Wells/California Wildlife Center
Heather Patrice Brown, Development Coordinator, California Wildlife Center
Heather Patrice Brown, Development Coordinator, California Wildlife Center
6:12 am PDT July 22, 2020

California Wildlife Center is caring for five orphaned mule deer fawns. The earliest arrived on March 28; the most recent on May 19. One of the patients came from the neighboring area of Topanga, while the rest are from Santa Ynez, Gaviota and two from Goleta.

The first fawn to arrive was brought to a ranger by hikers. She was so young, a member of our staff needed to come in after-hours to feed her. Young animals need to be fed often and over an extended period each day, sometimes longer than our operating hours. The Santa Barbara County Fire Department rescued another deer from Goleta after he became entangled in a fence. The other three were all found individually as orphans, too young to survive on their own.

When the deer first arrive, they are bottle-fed goat's milk because it is gentle on the stomach. They are slowly transitioned to a milk replacement formula specific to their species. In order to prevent the fawns from imprinting on people, they were trained to drink out of a bottle rack as soon as they were able. This way, the fawns don't see the staff who are feeding them, decreasing the chance they will associate humans with food.

All five deer had to be treated for a viral infection, which had caused diarrhea. One had an eye injury that was healed with medications. Another patient had bent legs and needed bandages and splints to correct them. One also required antiparasitics to rid her of ticks.

The deer are now all cured of their ailments and have weaned from formula. They have graduated to eating browse (leaves and stems) of plants they would munch in the wild. They also receive a special food pellet for deer to ensure they obtain all the nutrition they need while growing.

The prognosis is good for all the deer. Staff estimates they will be ready to return to the wild in October. They will be released together in the Santa Monica Mountains.

Mule Deer range across most of North America. There are six subspecies in our state. The California mule deer is the only one found around Los Angeles. They mostly eat leaves from native shrubs but will sometimes include grass in their diet. The deer are found in wild areas, including woodlands, chaparral and wetland habitats.

Female mule deer give birth to one or two fawns each year. They will leave their young for many hours while they feed. If you find a fawn sitting quietly in the bushes, leave it alone. It’s likely just waiting for mother to return, which she won't do if people are nearby. Give the young deer a wide berth and keep any pets away. If the fawn appears panicked, is crying, or looks sick or injured, contact CWC (310-458-9453) or your local animal control agency immediately.

Deer face many threats from humans, including being hit by cars and loss of habitat. Mule deer also suffer from a diminished food source after wildfires if non-native invasive plants replace indigenous bushes.

If you find a sick or injured adult deer, do not attempt to rescue the animal yourself. Keep an eye on it and contact CWC (310-458-9453) or your local animal control agency immediately.

Help support California Wildlife Center's rehabilitation of orphaned mule deer fawns by donating to their care today. Click here to make your tax-deductible contribution today.

You may also sponsor a fawn and receive:

  • A personalized Certificate of Sponsorship

  • A photo

  • A Mule Deer fact sheet

You also have the option to add a plush fawn to your package. They make great gifts!


California Wildlife Center is a 501(c)3 nonprofit that provides medical and rehabilitative care to more than 4,300 sick, injured, and orphaned native California animals every year. Click here to donate.