Are deer our friends?
In pop culture, deer have always been cast in a fairly benevolent light. Bambi, likely the most famous and easily recognizable anthropomorphized deer, possesses nothing but the most shining of virtues. Bambi, as a fawn, is innocent, adorable, morally upstanding and intelligent; probably the four most valued traits youth can harbour. Then, as Bambi develops into a buck, so too do his traits mature admirably. Man-Bambi is noble, monogamous, majestic and brave. He risks fire and wolves to save his beloved girlfriend. He is strong and powerful, but shows mercy. He is barrel-chested with imposing antlers. He is goodness incarnate; at least, he is meant to be construed as such. I mean, he’s the damn Prince of the Forest.
Why is the Prince of the Forest a deer? Because we, as a species, love deer. Deer have adorable names like does and fawns and stags and bucks. Deer have gnarly antlers that look rad and are intimidating. Hunters in deer-related fairy tales are the villains. But humans are the hunters. We adore deer more than our fellow man.
I grew up in a small town full of bears. Bears are imposing, physically dominating creatures. In my youth, if I saw a bear, my heart jumped and I immediately got the hell out of there. If I was driving, I slowed down, stared at the lumbering beast and thanked Christ I wasn’t walking. If I saw a stag, however, whether on foot or in a vehicle, I would barely register that I’d seen anything at all. I had no fear of deer. Deer were never the horror-movie monsters brought to life that bears were. In my mind, deer were harmless.
How wrong I was.
We think of deer as passive and benevolent, but violence towards people has already been exhibited in Victoria’s growing deer population. Two years ago, Barb Sharp was chased 50 metres down her street by a female deer, only to be saved by a neighbour passing by in a truck. The deer chased Sharp behind a truck and, for some bizarre reason, waited for her on the other side, exhibiting classic signs of aggression: stomping, snorting and wild staring. No one knows why the deer targeted Sharp.
According to the 2010 B.C. Urban Ungulate Conflict Analysis, about 76 per cent of wildlife-vehicle collisions in Canada are caused by deer, and in B.C. these collisions kill about five people per year.
The bottom line is that deer kill people. They are all around us, and their population is growing. Deer now are not born in the wilderness and encroached upon by an expanding city. Deer in Victoria are often born in the city; they are urban deer from birth. They do not fear us; they have no reason to. They have rocks for feet, and males have large, sharp horns. Females may attack to protect their young, and males may attack to assert dominance. They can be aggressive, and they are physically powerful enough to launch themselves over six-foot fences. They breed like mad and they have few, if any, natural predators in the city. They cause enough traffic accidents that they might as well be driving drunk. They’re deadlier than bears and there are thousands of them. Yes, they’re beautiful and majestic, but they’ve been cast in the wrong light. Deer are not Bambi. They do not possess human virtues. Bambi is a person, cast as a deer. Deer, real deer, are a wild plague and are absolutely not our friends.