The term applies when well-meaning passersby think they’ve found an abandoned fawn – a baby deer- who is in need of rescuing. Most of the time, however, fawns are intentionally left by their mothers who are off foraging for food – and actually keeping the fawn safe by leaving them behind.
Fawns don’t have a distinct scent – meaning predators have a hard time honing in on them. This makes it safer for a doe to leave her fawn for a few hours than to constantly stay with them. But if they're touched by a person, they suddenly have a scent – and become a potential target.
In a recent article, the Southwest Virginia Wildlife Rescue of Roanoke (Virginia) noted that in a single weekend, seven fawns were dropped off at their rehabilitation centre – and five of them had been fawn-napped, meaning several does will have searched tirelessly for a fawn that won't ever be found.
The Fur-Bearers own Marcy Potter, who worked with wildlife rehabilitators for several years, often offers an analogy of parents at a grocery store.
“They turn down one aisle and their kid is still on another,” she says. “Then someone grabs the kid and takes them home because they’re obviously an orphan.”
If you see an animal that you believe is in distress, please contact your local wildlife rehabilitator or animal control agency before intervening. Because you never know if you might be doing more harm than good.