Why deer hide their babies...
Spring is baby time for our Pere David Deer but do you think they are stay at home parents or working parents? You’ll see the Pere David Deer on the first section of the safari park, a large open area with ponds. The deer mums (hinds) are preparing to give birth, something you might be lucky enough to see on your drive! They will separate themselves from the herd, finding a nice secluded spot and give birth to a single baby called a calf.
The mum then cleans the baby and leaves to graze with the rest of the herd, the new born baby is alone. For the first few days the baby will have visits from mum for feeding and cleaning but then she leaves and returns to the herd. When you are on the park this is when they are hardest to spot. Your best chance is by watching the adults and perhaps a mum might give the location away by looking in that direction.
In their first few weeks, they are growing at an amazing rate so by being larger they are harder for mum to hide. At this stage the babies are joined by others as they crèche. You’ll now see gatherings of young Pere David calves.
Pere David Deer aren’t the only ones to choose heading out to work, it is a strategy used by many deer and antelope species.
Why abandon babies?
It might seem like the babies are abandoned but actually what the mums are doing is very clever. In the wild, by hiding the babies away from the herd it means predators are focusing their attention on what they can see, the herd, not what they can’t, the baby.
When we play hide and seek it is a visual game, many predators rely on their other senses to find their next meal. This means a deer mum needs to make sure her baby is not only hidden from view but also doesn’t smell or make a noise. This behaviour is instinctive in young deer and antelope, they remain still and quiet even while our keeping team carry out a health check. This demonstrates just how strong the instinct to stay hidden is. As soon as a young deer or antelope has the strength it will start to join the herd.
What should you do if you find a baby deer?
As we said above, chances are if you see a baby deer alone on the safari park or even find one in your local park, they have not been abandoned. Mum will return to feed the baby so don’t disturb it, leave it where it is and move away from the area, mum might be watching you.