This photo carries such enormous weight and induces a realization which could easily be dismissed as anthropomorphisation. But it isn’t. They’re wild animals. However, the event surrounding the photograph kept me awake all night thinking about it with a deep sadness and an attempt at understanding.
We’d been on our evening walk when we encountered the small herd of red deer that have been hanging around, and in, our garden for the last few weeks. There are only 6 of them, led by a dominant hind who stands her ground and barks when we get too close. We met them a kilometre away from the house. Rutting season is coming to a close and it’s clear that they lost their stag to hunters, which is why they’re behaving so strangely. Unlike the 5 full red deer herds we watch daily, each with an alpha stag, younger males, hinds and fawns, this group of females and fawns seem to be clinging to human habitation, perhaps out of fear of predators now they don’t have a protector.
This is what a normal herd looks like (with lots of pointy antlers…):
To see them so far away from our garden (some mornings I have to shout at them to get out of it and stop eating my young fruit trees) suggests that slowly they’ll become incorporated in one of the bigger herds. Here are two of them in my next door neighbour’s garden:
What caused such emotion, and what brought the bigger picture into view, was when a young fox came barreling out from the tree line and sat down amongst them. We know the fox. I filmed it playing with its sibling just over a month ago:
We regularly see its father guarding the den a hundred foot or so away.
But, as with many of the animals we watch grow in the area, life here is harsh and brutal. Every year we get 3 fresh roe fawns to watch scamper about. With brains the size of a rabbit’s they have little notion of self preservation and will generally only flee twenty feet before stopping to watch what the danger had been. Three becomes two and eventually one as the months pass. One lynx requires 60+ roe deer per year to survive. Sometimes I’ll come across carcasses or skeletons in the meadows and forests. And both wolf and lynx will eat foxes.
This young fox that came out of the woods went and sat down in the middle of the stag-less herd of deer. They carried on grazing. A red hind could easily kill a fox, especially when protecting its young, but they tolerated its presence as though accepting another member. The young fox, obviously feeling relaxed, cleaned itself. It was a bizarre spectacle. When the deer eventually returned to the forest, the fox sat a moment longer and then followed them. This was at the same location it had played with its, since-vanished, sibling, a few weeks earlier.
We are told that animals don’t have emotions, only humans do. We are educated in outdated Victorian values. Anyone who has ever spent time with animals, especially dogs and cats, will know that they express a wide range of human-like emotions (although cynics claim this to merely be mimicry). This young fox had shown its loneliness and need for companionship, even if that be interspecial.
For the briefest of moments in the grand scheme of things, a carnivore sought solace with herbivores; predator and prey needed each others’ company. It was such a carpe diem event. I can’t even put into words the maelstrom of confusion that this has opened in my mind, this glimpse of realisation just beyond the boundaries of my conscious thoughts. It was like Nature herself took a break from the perpetual life and death struggle.
If ever there was a sign of something, then this has to be one…