Bambi represents one of the most appealing and adorable creatures in nature, the baby deer, or fawn. Unlike fictional Bambi though, real young deer should be shot and killed if their mother has been culled. This is the advice from scientists who have been researching the impact on deer populations in Scotland post large-scale deer culling on the Isle of Rum. Bambi managed to survive without his mother, but most orphans do not.
The generations who have sat and sobbed at that tragic scene when the hunter chased and shot Bambi’s loving mother, were right to worry.
In a study published in Behavioural Ecology and Sociobiology which was supported by many environmental agencies, including Scottish Natural Heritage, best practice guidelines are re-set to kill orphaned baby deer. 60,000 are shot each year in Scotland as part of land management programs. The total population is between 350,000 to 400,00 of the iconic red deer breed. With no natural predators to stalk and kill them to keep these numbers under control, human stalkers now do the job.
A team from the Universities of Edinburgh, Cambridge and Alberta, Canada, have been monitoring the deer on the Isle of Rum since 1972. By use of tagging and a monthly census they have been able to establish how well youngsters get on whether they are still with their mother or not. The males that lost a mother before they were weaned either died, or were slow to grow their antlers. This had a profound long-term effect on their ability to find a mate. The females stay beside their mothers so they had a higher risk of death independent of their age, if they lost the nurturing parent.
Just like in the movie, Bambi, baby deer learn everything from Mum, including all the tricks of where to find shelter and the best spots to forage for food. Even if they were no longer dependent on her for nutrition, they still needed her to learn how to fit in socially and to survive. This is especially true, again echoing the Disney film, in the winter months.
Robbie Kernahan of the Scottish Natural Heritage was not surprised that stalkers were being told to avoid leaving orphans if they have shot a hind. “It does make strong moral sense to make sure the calves don’t suffer or struggle,” he said.
With number of stags and hinds almost perfectly equal, it is still considered more effective to target females in the annual culls. Abandoned youngsters will then go on to die without maternal care in a majority of cases. Male stags do not generally behave like the Great Prince of the Forest and keep a benevolent eye on their offspring.
Red deer are culturally and emotionally associated with the Scottish Highlands. They are the largest land mammal in the UK and renowned for their resplendent sets of antlers. Generically known as the “Monarch of the Glen” the males have a unique beauty and majesty. During the rutting season (mating) their guttural roars and tangled horns re-establish the hierarchy in the herd. The winner gets the most hinds for his harem.
Many will say it has been general practice for years to take out the fawns with the hinds, but it has now been officially declared. The scientists don’t want to see any little “Bambies” left on their own in the hills. Stalkers must now load an extra bullet and kill the calf.
By Kate Henderson
Aberdeen Press and Journal