Oct 16 2013

Deer Among The Dead

Published by at 6:20 am under Mammals


On Monday I described how American Indians shaped the landscape before European arrival.  We shape it too, though we don't always realize how.  Case in point: There are more deer in North America now than there were before Columbus landed in 1492.

Because deer are a prey species, their abundance is tied to their predators.  When American Indians ruled the continent they hunted deer for food and to control their population so the deer would not decimate their crops.  They knew that no deer and too many deer meant less food.

European Americans are still figuring out how to balance the deer population.  We overdid it a century ago by uncontrolled hunting that killed all the deer in Pennsylvania.  Then we passed hunting laws and imported deer from Virginia because we missed them.

Now we've erred on the other side.  We've eliminated deer predators and protected them so well that their population has exploded everywhere, even in city neighborhoods.  In a conversation with Allegheny Cemetery's president Sharon Leadbitter learned that about 300 deer live there in three herds.  This is way too many deer for the land to support so they move through Lawrenceville eating gardens, shrubs, flowers and handouts.

Allegheny Cemetery's deer are almost tame.  Sharon says this is both a blessing and a curse, "Some of the blessings are that the deer will eat out of your hand if they know you. The curse would be this great interaction. People feed all manner of things to these animals. White bread, cereal, I've even seen a candy bar being fed. It only takes once for someone to be bitten or kicked. These are not pets but because the animals have lost most of their healthy fear, people don't realize that they are still semi-wild."

The deer browse and gambol among the headstones, unconcerned by living visitors.  Sharon filmed a fawn playing among the tombstones last June while his mother watched.

"The cemetery is a great place to have some quiet time and reconnect with nature," says Sharon. "Come check it out but always maintain a respectful distance, or even better stay in the car"  when you visit the deer among the dead.


(video by Sharon Leadbitter)

11 responses so far

11 Responses to “Deer Among The Dead”

  1. Frank Warninskyon 16 Oct 2013 at 7:59 am

    Any danger of Lyme disease?

  2. Kate St. Johnon 16 Oct 2013 at 8:46 am

    Good question, Frank. I don’t know.

  3. Rob Protzon 16 Oct 2013 at 9:19 am

    People are catching Lyme disease in their backyards these days, so it has to be there.

  4. sharonon 16 Oct 2013 at 9:29 am

    Not really. I haven’t heard of any incidents. I do know that vaccination cubes are spread throughout in the springtime.

    The deer only get close to a select few and even then it is EXTREMELY rare that they allow themselves to be touched. I always have hand sanitizer and do a check of myself to make sure I don’t have any freeloaders.

    The bigger threat, I would think, is being bitten or kicked. Us city folk have a tendency to think of them as pets and forget to respect them.

  5. Mary Ann Pikeon 16 Oct 2013 at 1:10 pm

    I disagree with the “even better, stay in the car” sentiment. My mother’s family lived on Home Street, across from the cemetery entrance, for close to 80 years. Allegheny Cemetery was the closest thing they had to a park, being in a heavily urban area. My uncle used to take us for walks in the cemetery when we visited. We saw it as a peaceful place where you could see birds and flowers and forget you were in the middle of the city. Those walks have made me appreciate the beauty of cemeteries throughout my life.

  6. Chadon 16 Oct 2013 at 4:42 pm

    A friend had a tame buck (legally) that was your best friend until october…when the testosterone kicked in and “Rudy” had to be penned because he wanted to gore people with his antlers…While in his 18′ tall chain link enclosure…. he would attemt to stab you with his antlers if you got close to the fence….to feed and water him, and the less tame does in the enclosure, my friend rigged up a tank with the hose on the outside of enclosure, and a portal with a chute in the fence, to dump the food through… If any of these hand fed deer in Kate’s post are bucks…I feel sorry for the individual that ends up on the recieving end of a set of antlers… I’ve helped restle deer down… to hold them while they get their shots…it takes three people to control them…and one to administer the shot…
    This hand feeding… is playing with fire!

  7. sharonon 16 Oct 2013 at 5:00 pm

    the “stay in the car” is just a suggestion … kind of a reminder to maintain a safe distance. It also functions as a great cover if you’re trying to take pictures.

  8. Cherylon 16 Oct 2013 at 8:12 pm

    This is a beautiful video Kate. I’ve sat at the cemetery very still and quiet and have been lucky enough to experience the deer. How cute is the little one? I can’t help but notice how it’s spots blend with the blooming clover. Nature is so very good.

  9. sharonon 16 Oct 2013 at 8:57 pm

    Thank you Ms Cheryl. It was just one of those “lucky to be there” moments

  10. Anne Curtison 16 Oct 2013 at 9:48 pm

    I’ve driven thru Allegheny Cemetery too. What caught my eye more than the deer were the resident CANADA GEESE! I saw at least 3 separate groups, of 20+ each. Very bad for the visitors, esp. poop-wise! Also took a docent-guided tour thru Homewood Cemetery Sat. Saw 4 deer, who acknowledged our presence by leaving “deposits”, in our honor, I’m sure! The tour was great, tho. I highly recommend it. Anne

  11. sharonon 17 Oct 2013 at 8:54 am

    the geese are an even bigger problem .. not only the “hazardous waste” but they are the main beneficiaries of human feedings. “come on honey … let’s go feed the birds”

    When they are constantly fed like this, they never leave and it attracts even more. I’ve also heard of a couple of kids being nipped by a goose or two. Not serious …. but Man does it HURT!!!

Comments RSS

Leave a Reply