Resident Wildlife at Eland Lodge: The Fallow Deer

Written by John Coupland

Fallow Deer Stag at Eland Lodge

I thought I would give a short description of one of the wonderful animals that we share the site with. The Fallow Deer that roam the woods and pasture that sweep through the Eland site are probably the most impressive animals living with us. A large animal standing at its largest at just over a metre at the shoulder, so a substantial presence on its own but as a group they are very impressive. Very shy and recessive they are typically seen in the distance where they move out onto pasture when they feel sufficiently confident, but they disappear very quickly when disturbed. They are very active at night and I am often reminded that although we think we control the land as we regard it during the day as the night descends and we go indoors, the creatures of the night take over and occupy that space. I’m often startled by the footprints of the deer right next to the house or next to the ménage, we have a strange view of what constitutes ownership.

Its normal to see evidence of their presence rather than the deer themselves, footprints in soft ground, evidence of feeding on trees etc or to see them at a distance which is a shame because these guys are the movie stars of the deer world, with looks to die for, lovely colouring, big eyes, a slightly elongated face, Bambi if you will! The typical colouration is a light fawn with lighter spots to the body but that is not a standard, they range from a lighter colour to almost black. They tend to wander as a herd until the rut in late October early November when the mature more dominant males start to establish a territory to attract females. We normally hear rather than see this process, the stags roar, a kind of developed belching sound that is very physically taxing so a great roar indicates a strong male, “hello girls!” As with most animals it’s best to use bravado rather than blood to establish your dominance but every now and again it comes to the real stuff.

A physical contest between two stags is a fabulous thing to watch and we were lucky enough to witness just such a competition last year out on the cross country course between two big healthy stags in their prime. It’s a test of strength, both stags lock antlers and push against each other to see who is the strongest. Fallow stag antlers are “Palmate” that is they kind of resemble a palm a broad flat area with prongs coming off it, not the prongs you would see on a Red Deer. As we watched, these two alpha males did their stuff, whacking heads and pushing for all they were worth, which in actual fact is a perfect description of what was at stake, everything! The end came very suddenly, one minute everything was on the table the next we had a winner and the looser left the field. On one hand he left without major injury, which is good but on the other he did not get the chance to establish a harem and pass on his genes to the next generation. To the victor the spoils as it were!

Fallow Deer: Stags Rutting at Eland Lodge

Once mated the hinds gather together as a group and move away from the males. The new fawns are born in June/July and the process begins again. A single fawn is born and is on its feet in minutes. If you are lucky enough to see a Fallow Deer Fawn close-up, you are very very lucky, they are exquisite! Most young are pretty (with the exception of Barn Owl chicks who are like an ugly alien being, which is strange as they grow up to be one of the worlds most beautiful animals) but these guys are off the scale! If you think the adults are beautiful the fawns leave them in the shade. Being as they are so shy it’s very, very unusual to see one in the wild. They have a well developed defensive strategy to deal with predators, the older deer run off drawing away the predator leaving the young fawns hunkered down in the vegetation. Their colouration provides excellent natural camouflage and they stay put! I was riding through some woods quite a few years ago now, woods that I probably shouldn’t have been in, but they were very quiet. I saw some deer in the trees moving away from me but as I rode up the path I happened to look down and no more than 3ft from were my horses hooves had trodden, curled up in long grass was a very young Fallow Deer fawn. Absolutely still, head down across its back and we walked straight past it. If I hadn’t been on horseback I would never have seen it but it was a wonderful thing to witness, one of the prettiest things I have ever seen.

So these are some of the guys that share the site with us and although they chew the trees and eat some of the flowers, I have to say they are very welcome. It’s a lovely thing to see a small herd grazing on our ground or Hollybush’s when you are walking the dogs or out for a ride, its like a little blessing! But as I am constantly saying to the kids of St. Augustine’s primary school when they come for their nature rambles, you have to be very quiet and observant, I hope I have better luck with you than I do with them!