Medicine River Wildlife Centre is preparing for spring fawns with a new deer mask to conceal the face of the human feeding them.
Gwen Marshall, wildlife conflict specialist, is completing four new adult deer masks that will be used when staff tend to orphan fawns in the ungulate enclosure.
“Deer are really bad about getting comfortable with humans. Unfortunately, a friendly deer is a dead deer. We want to make really sure they don’t like people at all,” Marshall said.
She said by wearing the mask, the fawn will come to the staff member looking for their bottle of milk.
“They’re looking at you as an adult deer. But if you take the mask off and enter the enclosure, they take off and run away.”
Staff are also very quiet around the deer.
“There’s no talking when you’re at the ungulate enclosure, no talking to interact with them so they’re not associating human voices with anything good.”
The wildlife centre has been considering adding doe urine to the disguise to smell like a deer as well.
“The more you can do to make sure fawns aren’t interested in people, the better.”
She said most other species don’t have the same problem as deer. A fox pup may become a little friendly in captivity, but put him back with a wild fox family and he will “wild up immediately.”
The centre also works quickly to find orphan animals a wild family to join so masks for other species haven’t been needed. But Marshall is looking at making some hand puppets to work with baby birds of prey, like merlins or eagles, to prevent imprinting on humans if a wild family isn’t readily available.
Over the last nine years, Marshall has made about four different deer masks. The latest is a resin cast that will be ready for fawn season in June.
“This one is a little more realistic than the last one. I’m trying something new. It’s mostly for my own entertainment. As long as it’s deer shaped, the deer don’t really care.”
If any other wildlife centres need masks, Marshall said she is happy to take orders.
Currently Medicine River has two deer in care that will need to be placed with a zoo or other facility. They were kept illegally and are way too friendly so they must remain in captivity for their own good.
Marshall said fawns are undeniably adorable.
“But it’s really important for their health that they don’t like humans so you can’t love them.”
Mask and costume making has become a hobby for Marshall over the years.
“I like to make a lot of realistic costumes. I’ll make wolves, or deer, or foxes. I just sent a suit off to Germany. I sell to the U.S. I’ve sold to Australia. All over the place.”
In the last few years, she has gotten creative and made a scary zombie doberman and spooky clown hyena costumes for a popular Halloween haunted house in Red Deer.
Marshall said she only makes a few costumes a year because the work is time consuming. She can be found on Twitter @raditzwyvern.
“You’ve got to have a silly online name,” Marshall laughed.