June 4, 2020

Where the Deer and the Anthropoids* Play


Deer remind us of the beauty in the world, but we humans need to learn how to co-exist with them.

For Native Americans who once lived in Topanga, deer were probably the most valued natural resource in an abundant land.

Those big-eared inhabitants (Odocoileus hemionus or “Mule Deer”) provided fuel, clothing, tools and even musical instruments that helped the native people survive. In those times, deer were plentiful and the tribes were respectful in their management of this valuable natural resource by never taking more than they needed

Before the Europeans arrived, frequent fires rejuvenated the plants and made better foraging for these deer .

These days, fire is not an option, so if you’re looking to improve deer habitat, light grazing, thought to have a similar result, may be a good reason to “Hire a Herd” of lovely goats for your brush clearance, (310) 455-0755.

Grass is actually not a main food source for deer. Since they have multiple stomachs, it’s risky for humans to feed them; the wrong food can irritate their sensitive digestive tracks.

These vegans prefer new leaves, berries and buds and love acorns and apples. Twigs of deciduous leaves will do in a pinch.

Their habit of browsing may lead these sensitive creatures to nibbling on our lovely irrigated ornamental and vegetable gardens and even a six-foot-high fence can’t stop them. There are, however, other solutions that may encourage but not invite them to invade your space.

The first and most obvious is to plant or maintain the native flora on your property. Having a native garden will also lure other native animals and birds to your grounds while saving massive amounts of water.

Another solution is to consult the gardener’s bible, aka the “Western Garden Book.” Therein lie many pages worth of “Deer Resistant Plants.” Some local favorites suggested are Lavender, Rosemary, Bouganvillia, Cape Mallow, Jupiter’s Beard, Lantana and Chrysanthemum to name just a few. Browsing online will also net page after page of deer-proof suggestions.

All that munching makes deer the largest herbivores in the Santa Monica Mountains. They forage from dawn until dusk, although a mid-day nap is always a possibility. At night they bed down in protected areas.

As with other wildlife, ongoing development is severely limiting their habitat and interfering with migration patterns. Retaining walls and fences not only restrict their movements but can impede their escape from wildfires.

Although they are safe from gun-toting hunters in this area, their major predators are still human – behind the wheels of cars careening along the Boulevard and roads. In fact, Topanga Animal Rescue has often taken on the heroic and unending task of trying to save the mutilated victims of these speeders.

Their four-legged predators include mountain lions, coyotes, bobcats and domesticated dogs.

Still, deer continue to breed and live successfully in the little areas they have left. The “rut” or mating season begins each fall and lasts only a few days. This is when you see the males having it out with each other over the best deer babes. About 200 days later the fawns, often adorable spotted Bambi twins, are born.

Deer are often associated with Native American fertility and maturation rituals.

The “Deer Woman” is a common theme in legends from all over the United States and Mexico. These stories tell of a female deer that can shape-shift into a sensual woman so beautiful that she can entrance any man. Invariably, she leaves him to pine away of lovesickness. The one thing she cannot change is her dainty hooves. (Men, a word of advice: check what’s inside those Manolo Blahniks before you fall.)

If you are lucky enough to spot one, here’s a way not to scare a deer away: send them good thoughts. No kidding. They seem to get it and immediately relax and go back to browsing. They also seem to respond well to friendly waves.

Human voices, on the other hand, generally scare them and, naturally, any thoughts of using them as a food source are strictly out of the question. Of course, some very tame internet celebrity deer have been known to nuzzle up to humans and canines alike, which just proves their gentle nature.

We are blessed to share our Topanga with the deer. Whether we come upon them along the curve of a trail, or see them springing along in the distance, they always lift the heart and remind us that the world is full of beauty.

* From the Greek, anthropos, meaning human.