Sunday, June 5, 2011

Someone needs a time out

Today the Calgary Herald brings us a warning about punk deer who are ramming around a small town here in Canada:

WATERTON PARK Alta. — With stunning mountain views in all directions, visitors here naturally cast their eyes upward.  But that would be a mistake — at least when deer are nearby. They've started hoofing dogs and stalking people.  "One lady got hypothermia pretty badly because she got chased into the lake. She was elderly and she just grabbed her little dog and backed into the lake," said Barb Johnston, an ecosystems scientist with Parks Canada.

The situation got so bad last year park staff started marking wayward deer with coloured paintballs when the creatures chased dogs or stared down children.  Ones struck multiple times with paintball markets were removed from the park. But half the painted deer came back.  At first the humans assumed aggressive behaviour was limited to females trying to protect fawns hidden in long grass and near garden planter boxes. That theory soon changed.

"It's females without fawns and even young males and there's no natural reason they should be doing that," said Johnston. Rather, aggressiveness has become a learned behaviour.  "I think they just think it's fun."

The deer have grown too accustomed to the townspeople and the tourists, who feed them popcorn, candy and sandwiches in exchange for close-up photographs.  It was time for a change of tactics.

First, Johnston ordered a raft of new signs to warn people of the danger. A company in Calgary produced four neon-yellow triangles depicting a black stick figure cowering under the raised hoofs of an attacking deer.  Three of the signs were promptly stolen. More are on order.


Enter Christine Jobe, who has been training, breeding and working border collies since 1994.  She's camped in a trailer in the town. Every morning at 6:30 she takes a few of her dogs on a hazing run of the town, hoping to discourage the deer from fawning.  The deer see the dogs and bolt.

Although only in its first week, the hazing seems to be working. The deer bolt by sun up. But they soon come back, forcing Jobe to conduct up to four sweeps of the town per day.  The attacks don't tend to start until June — when a confluence of tourists, summering townspeople and mating ungulate hormones proves too heady to avoid conflict.

"I've watched people walking their dogs and they're acting scared. The deer can sense that. The deer know," she said. "It's noticeable, the changed behaviour. They do this little walk. It's stalking behaviour."  Jonhston said the dogs were considered after she saw them successfully run elk out of Banff.  The deer have yet to aim a hoof at the face of any of Jobe's collies.

Although most townspeople seem happy to see the deer get their comeuppance, shopkeeper and longtime resident Carol Cruickshank worries about disappointing visitors.  "I really like seeing deer fawns born in the backyard and the tourists, of course, love them," she said. "I fear that if we chase them all out of town, the tourists will miss seeing them."

Even the most ardent supporter, however, acknowledges the deer are becoming a problem.  "I've been chased many, many times," she said. "Yeah, it's pretty scary when it happens to you, especially when you have a child. The dogs, you can't let them off their leash, but I think it's part of being in the town."

I bet these deer had helicopter parents.  "Oh honey, of course no one minds if you kick that human in the head.  You just do whatever makes you happy and Mommy will make sure no one interferes.  Because rules don't apply to MY precious fawn!!"

Day 28 of the 30-day music challenge is a song that makes you feel guilty.  It's Jesus Walks by Kanye West and you can read why here.

7 comments:

  1. Haha, that's funny!

    There are deer all around where I live. They're deathly scared of everyone, though. So I GUESS that's GOOD?

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  2. I so want one of those signs!!! We have deer all over the place in Oklahoma. Out at the campgrounds they come up to the tents. Never been attacked or stalked though. I think I'd throw rocks at it or something.

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  3. Ummm... I love that sign and want to hang it in my living room. Do government officials frown upon stealing signs? Maybe - but if I tell them it's all to warn others of the dangers of rogue deer, you know, all the rogue deer in my living room, they'll probably understand. Probably.

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  4. I thought you were kidding at first! lol Probably one of the most awsome post Ive read all day! Nicely written. By the way thank you for all the kind words this week when we were going through our hell.

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  5. It brings me great memories! I use to live next to the banff national park and we had those warnings all the time! (when it wasn't deers, it was coyotes or cougars... anyways)

    I looooooooove the sign!!!

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  6. Oh my gosh... I want the sign too!!!! This is both hysterical and frightening--- just like most of the good things in life!

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  7. hah - we had some serious deer encounters a couple of weekends ago at camp...I'm glad they weren't vicious like these ones!

    That sign is classic, haha

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Lend me some sugar!