AT THIS time, walkers in areas frequented by deer can come across cast antlers, treasured by some. March is the month when mature stags shed their antlers, writes Donal Hickey
Once seen as trophies by deer stalkers, big antlers can be ornaments in a house and can also have practical uses, like coat hangers for instance.
Sometimes, you’ll see stags going around with just one antler. This is explained by the fact that they shed one at a time and new antlers begin to grow immediately. Discarded antlers can be chewed by stags and hinds for their mineral contents. However, it’s still possible to find perfect antlers in grass, with those of red deer being bigger, heavier and having more points than sika deer antlers.
Winters can be hard on deer, with death in some cases being caused by food shortages and even hypothermia in exceptionally cold, severe weather. In such weather, mortality rates are high among calves and old or sick deer.
The recent winter will be remembered for high rainfall, but it was mild and that should boost deer survival rates. A herd of 60 to 70 red deer could be seen in a lowlands areas of Killarney National Park, on the town’s edge, all winter.
The herd is in Knockreer, not far inside the entrance gate to the park opposite St Mary’s Cathedral, and has become a tourist attraction. As a regular observer, I can see people down there all the time taking photographs and getting close-up views of these beautiful animals.
All very well for visitors and wildlife-lovers, but farmers and motorists, even in areas far outside the bounds of the national park, are not happy: deer regularly trespass on privately-owned land and cause traffic hazards and serious accidents on roads.
Because of its sheer size and rugged terrain in the 26,000-acre Killarney National Park, the authorities say it’s not possible or practical to fence in deer, also pointing out that, as wild animals, they are entitled to roam.
April brings signs of new vegetation and better grazing for deer. However, cold in April can delay grass growth and there are also other dangers, not least illegal gorse fires on the hills, which endanger deer and other wildlife.
The first sika calves also arrive in April, while competition for food increases as mature deer go about building up depleted fat levels following the winter.
In his authoritative book, The Wild Red Deer of Killarney, Sean Ryan said deer can turn to anything palatable, including carrion, dead rabbits and frogs. However, hungry deer still know the difference between edible and poisonous plants.
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