Beware of the Babes in the Woods – thereporteronline | #childpredator | #onlinepredator | #sextrafficing

Tom Tatum found this diamondback terrapin hatchling hiding out on the deck of his boat. (Tom Tatum/For Media News Group)

It’s that time of year again when our woods and waters are teeming with young life, those newborn creatures that are abundant, fragile, vulnerable, and not very street smart.

I was reminded of this a few days ago while driving the back roads along the Brandywine Creek when I spotted a whitetail doe nuzzling her newborn fawn. The fawn was among the smallest I have ever seen and could not have been more than a few days (or even hours) old. When I stopped the truck for a closer look the doe bounded off into the brush leaving the little infant behind, lying in the middle of the field.

I drove off knowing the doe would soon return to her newborn. Then a few miles down the road I spotted another doe and wondered if she might also have a fawn nearby. Sure enough, the fawn was standing by her side and nursing. This time I slowed down but didn’t stop, not wanting to disturb the pair. Two days later, driving home from the grocery store, I glimpsed another tiny fawn scrambling across the road in front of me before disappearing into the underbrush.

I’m sure other folks are also having their share of wild child encounters. When that happens, the Pennsylvania Game Commission advises, be it deer, birds, raccoons, foxes or other animals, the best thing you can do is leave it alone. While some young animals might appear to be abandoned like the first fawn I watched after the mother dashed off, usually they are not. It’s likely their mothers are watching over them from somewhere nearby.

“Well-intentioned people might step in to help a young animal that appears to be alone, not realizing its mother is nearby and it’s not in need of help,” said Matthew Schnupp, the Game Commission’s wildlife management director. “That’s one reason why leaving young wildlife undisturbed in the wild typically is the best solution when encountering young wild animals.”

Adult animals often leave their young while they forage for food, but they don’t go far and they do return. Wildlife also often relies on a natural defensive tactic called the “hider strategy,” where young animals will remain motionless and “hide” in surrounding cover while adults draw the attention of potential predators or other intruders away from their young.

Deer often employ this strategy, and deer fawns sometimes are assumed to be abandoned when, in fact, their mothers are nearby. The Game Commission urges folks to resist the urge to interfere with young wildlife or remove any wild animal from its natural setting.

Of course, well-meaning good Samaritans aren’t the only threat posed to young wildlife, especially those with a penchant for playing in traffic. You may have observed an uptick in road kills of half-pint woodchucks, raccoons, squirrels and rabbits. In my travels around the region, I’ve noticed that these youngsters can be slow on the draw when it comes to fleeing oncoming vehicles. In a few miles of driving the other day I had to hit the brakes repeatedly to give a young squirrel, then a young cottontail rabbit, then a chipmunk, time to get out of the way. Later, while biking past a golf course, I watched as a golf cart swerved to avoid hitting a clueless Canada goose gosling.

But woodlands, back roads, and golf courses aren’t the only places you’ll run into these children of the wild. They’re also on and in the water. When I boarded my boat to go flounder fishing in Ocean City, MD, last week, I detected a little stowaway skittering around the deck. It turned out to be a newly hatched diamondback terrapin. I have no idea how it could have gotten onto my boat. Most likely the tiny turtle slipped aboard through one of the scuppers at the stern of the boat, but there was a slim chance it might have been dropped there by a clumsy predator like a gull or osprey.

Hatchling terrapins are extremely vulnerable to predation by a host of the usual suspects. Raccoons, skunks, opossums and foxes can raid the nests and consume the eggs before they have the chance to hatch. After hatching and on the move, predation also occurs from the air with sea gulls, ospreys, hawks, and eagles taking advantage to the movable feast. Then once they get back into the relative safety of salt water turtles still have to watch out for sharks, groupers, bluefish, and other predatory finny species.

Plenty of tiny terrapins are also crushed by car tires as they attempt to cross roads on their way to water. If they can make it through such a broad gauntlet of threats as youngsters, terrapins can live from 25 to 40 years of age. Unfortunately, a turtle hatchling’s odds of surviving to adulthood are less than 1 in 1,000. In any case, I released the little stowaway back into our canal in hopes he might somehow manage to beat those long odds.

Once underway to my fishing grounds I had to steer the boat around other hatchlings – namely goslings and mallard ducklings – who now inhabit our canals and back bay shallows. Yes, this time of year there’s no escaping these babes in the woods and on the water. But let them stay put, use caution behind the wheel, and enjoy those chance encounters with our children of the wild.

WEST CHESTER FISH GAME AND WILDLIFE ASSOCIATION’S NIGHT ON THE POND. WCFG&W will be hosting their annual bass fishing night on the Paradise Farms Camp pond and fellowship BBQ for members, family and friends on Thursday, June 22, from 6:30 pm to 9 PM. Come out early and try your luck on the Pond. There are some huge bass in the pond recently stocked by our members. The BBQ at the pavilion at 6:30 PM The bass are monstrous and waiting to be caught and released with your barbless hooks. For more information check their website at

Tom Tatum is the outdoors columnist for the MediaNews Group. You can reach him at [email protected].

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