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Nature Life: The Deer And Nature

By Obiabin Onukwugha

The deer is a hoofed ruminant mammal of the family Cervidae.

Deer appear in art from Paleolithic cave paintings onwards, and they have played a role in mythology, religion, and literature throughout history, as well as in heraldry, such as red deer that appear in the coat of arms of Åland.

Their economic importance of deer include the use of their meat as venison, their skins as soft, strong buckskin, and their antlers as handles for knives. Deer hunting has been a popular activity since the Middle Ages and remains a resource for many families today.

Deer are browsers, and feed primarily on foliage of grasses, sedges, forbs, shrubs and trees. secondarily on lichens in northern latitudes during winter. These wild have small, unspecialized stomachs by ruminant standards, and high nutrition requirements.

Rather than eating and digesting vast quantities of low-grade fibrous food as, for example, sheep and cattle do, deer select easily digestible shoots, young leaves, fresh grasses, soft twigs, fruit, fungi, and lichens. The low-fibered food, after minimal fermentation and shredding, passes rapidly through the alimentary canal.

Researchers say the deer require a large amount of minerals such as calcium and phosphate in order to support antler growth, and this further necessitates a nutrient-rich diet. There are some reports of deer engaging in carnivorous activity, such as eating dead alewives along lakeshores or depredating the nests of northern bobwhites.

Mating season for the deer typically begins in later August and lasts until December. Some species mate until early March. The gestation period is anywhere up to ten months for the European roe deer. Most fawns are born with their fur covered with white spots, though in many species they lose these spots by the end of their first winter.

Deer had a central role in the ancient art, culture and mythology of the Hittites, the ancient Egyptians, the Celts, the ancient Greeks, the Asians and several others. For instance, the Stag Hunt Mosaic of ancient Pella, under the Kingdom of Macedonia (4th century BC), possibly depicts Alexander the Great hunting a deer with Hephaestion. In Japanese Shintoism, the sika deer is believed to be a messenger to the gods.

In China, deer are associated with great medicinal significance; deer penis is thought by some in China to have aphrodisiac properties. Spotted deer are also believed in China to accompany the god of longevity. Furthermore, Deer was the principal sacrificial animal for the Huichal Indians of Mexico.

Deer is associated with wisdom, agility, fertility and supernatural powers in Turkic mythology.

However, the deer is said to be a vector for communicable diseases.

In some areas of the UK, deer (especially fallow deer due to their gregarious behaviour) have been implicated as a possible reservoir for transmission of bovine tuberculosis, a disease which the UK £90 million attempts to eradicate in 2005.

In New Zealand, deer are thought to be important as vectors picking up M. bovis in areas where brushtail possums Trichosurus vulpecula are infected, and transferring it to previously uninfected possums when their carcasses are scavenged elsewhere.

The white-tailed deer Odocoileus virginianus has been confirmed as the sole maintenance host in the Michigan outbreak of bovine tuberculosis which remains a significant barrier to the US nationwide eradication of the disease in livestock. Deer can also carry rabies.

Igbos call it “Mgbada”, Yorubas call it “Barewa”, while the Yorubas call it “agbọnrin.”

Deer serve several important functions in the ecosystem including keeping populations of producers in check, dispersing seeds, and serving as prey for secondary and tertiary consumers.

This shapes the terrain of the ecosystem and even controls non-biological processes such as weathering and erosion based on plant density.

As deer eat plant matter, they also consume their seeds and deposit them elsewhere when they are released in their feces. This aids in seed dispersal and is an important part of reproduction for some plants.

How the Deer got his Antlers

Once upon a time a Deer lived in a forest near a lake. Not far from the same lake, a Woodpecker had a nest in the top of a tree; and in the lake lived a Turtle. The three were friends, and lived together happily.

A hunter, wandering about in the wood, saw the footprints of the Deer near the edge of the lake. “I must trap the Deer, going down into the water,” he said, and setting a strong trap of leather, he went his way.

Early that night when the Deer went down to drink, he was caught in the trap, and he cried the cry of capture.

At once the Woodpecker flew down from her tree-top, and the Turtle came out of the water to see what could be done.

Said the Woodpecker to the Turtle: “Friend, you have teeth; you gnaw through the leather trap. I will go and see to it that the hunter keeps away. If we both do our best our friend will not lose his life.”

So the Turtle began to gnaw the leather, and the Woodpecker flew to the hunter’s house.

At dawn the hunter came, knife in hand, to the front door of his house.

The Woodpecker, flapping her wings, flew at the hunter and struck him in the face.

The hunter turned back into the house and lay down for a little while. Then he rose up again, and took his knife. He said to himself: “When I went out by the front door, a Bird flew in my face; now I will go out by the back door.” So he did.

The Woodpecker thought: “The hunter went out by the front door before, so now he will leave by the back door.” So the Woodpecker sat in a tree near the back door.

When the hunter came out the bird flew at him again, flapping her wings in the hunter’s face.

Then the hunter turned back and lay down again. When the sun arose, he took his knife, and started out once more.

This time the Woodpecker flew back as fast as she could fly to her friends, crying, “Here comes the hunter!”

By this time the Turtle had gnawed through all the pieces of the trap but one. The leather was so hard that it made his teeth feel as if they would fall out. His mouth was all covered with blood. The Deer heard the Woodpecker, and saw the hunter, knife in hand, coming on. With a strong pull the Deer broke this last piece of the trap, and ran into the woods.

The Woodpecker flew up to her nest in the tree-top.

But the Turtle was so weak he could not get away. He lay where he was. The hunter picked him up and threw him into a bag, tying it to a tree.

The Deer saw that the Turtle was taken, and made up his mind to save his friend’s life. So the Deer let the hunter see him.

The hunter seized his knife and started chasing after the Deer. The Deer, keeping just out of his reach, led the hunter into the forest.

When the Deer saw that they had gone far into the forest he slipped away from the hunter, and swift as the wind, he went by another way to where he had left the Turtle.

But the Turtle was not there. The Deer called, “Turtle, Turtle!”; and the Turtle called out, “Here I am in a bag hanging on this tree.”

Then the Deer lifted the bag with his horns, and throwing it upon the ground, he tore the bag open, and let the Turtle out.

The Woodpecker flew down from her nest, and the Deer said to them: “You two friends saved my life, but if we stay here talking, the hunter will find us, and we may not get away. So do you, Friend Woodpecker, fly away. And you, Friend Turtle, dive into the water. I will hide in the forest.”

The hunter did come back, but neither the Deer, nor the Turtle, nor the Woodpecker was to be seen. He found his torn bag, and picking that up he went back to his home.

The three friends lived together all the rest of their lives.

 

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