The primal mating cry of Japanese Sika deer is already being heard in the mountain valleys of Killarney, heralding the start of the so-called rutting season.
Sika in Killarney National Park and surrounding lands start to mate in September, while the native red deer, with which they share this habitat, don’t get down to business until October.
We heard the first cry of a Sika stag last week — a sort of piercing scream repeated a few times — which is very different to the loud, echoing roar of red stags. Red deer are bigger and the Sika can also be identified from white patches on the rump which become bigger when a Sika becomes frightened.
This is the best time to view deer, with imperious males of both species in their pomp.
There’s a sheen on their coats and we spotted a few eyeing up the dozens of females for which they will vie in the coming weeks. During the rut, fights regularly occur between competing stags.
‘’To witness a stag fight between two large red stags is to experience the ultimate in wildness,’’ says deer expert Sean Ryan. ‘’But keep your distance; these stags are utterly wild, large and powerful, and incredibly swift.’’ Only very rarely have people been attacked by stags, but it’s wise not get too close now. In summertime, stags stay together in amicable groups, but intense competition during the rut means, literally, it’s every amorous lad for himself. Rivalry and aggression set in among mature stags.
Normally shy animals which run away from people, the desire for hinds and mood for fighting now take over, making male behaviour unpredictable.
As nature ordains, the biggest stags _known as master stags which control the rut _ are the first to form harems of hinds, which can number up to 20. Younger and older stags are ruthlessly pushed aside.
‘’They must wait until the master stags are worn out before they can hope to take some of the hinds with them,’’ writes Sean Ryan in his definitive book, The Wild Red Deer of Killarney.
‘’By that time, the holders (of harems) will have already mated with the fittest hinds who normally come on heat by the second and third week of October.’’ The territory exclusive to a rutting stag is a moveable one. It surrounds the harem and moves when the hinds move. Hinds change feeding grounds, followed by the stag, usually roaring.
The deer rut has become a tourist attraction in Killarney. Some of the best places to view the deer are Knockreer, the old Kenmare road and the fields around the main entrance to Muckross House. Drivers should be careful, however, as deer are more active now and likely to be crossing roads.
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