Examining the scene
Dad had taken lots of pictures and remembered to put in a scale marker. I have trained him well ! This was the third body he found:
The first deer was unusual as well because the ribs had all been broken about two or three inches from the spine:
Here's another one that is almost the same. It shows a whole front leg with the humerus (upper arm), ulna and radius (forearm) and metacarpal and foot (lower leg in deer). Again the humerus is broken near the top.
Dad brought home this bit of fur for me to have a look at. When I turned it over I could see "V" shaped marks that looked as if they had been caused by an animal's canine teeth tearing off the fur:
I had some clues to start telling dad what I thought had happened.
When did they die ?It looks like they all died at the same time, but when ? The clues are:
- the amount of decomposition
- the teeth
- the fur
Decomposition: The remains were almost completely skeletonised. If it was summer, and in the open, I would guess maybe that it happened six weeks ago. But in winter, decomposition slows down a lot. My best guess from the remains was they died between three months and seven months ago, which would have been between the start of October and the start of January. (70% of red deer are born in the three weeks between 25th May and 14th June according to this, I've used a birthday of 1st June to calculate the dates.)
The teeth are a good clue. It looked like they all died at the same time, when they were between four and six months old. Red deer are born about the start of June, so that would put the time of death between the start of October and the start of December.
Red deer still have their reddy coat until at least the start of November, when it turns more dull, then it goes back to red in March.
The only time period all these things could have all happened would be between the start of November and the start of December so that is when I think the deer died.
What could have caused this ?
Finding one deer is not unusual but finding three that died at the same time, at the same age in the same place is very unusual.
Could they have been poisoned ? Sometimes bad gamekeepers leave out poison on dead animals, to kill off buzzards and foxes (but they usually end up killing other animals as well). But deer don't eat meat, and it is very unlikely foliage would be poisoned. It is possible but unlikely that a stream could have been poisoned, but why did it just affect the three youngest of the herd ?
Could they have been shot ? There are both poachers and a stalker that work in that wood. But all three were shot in the wood itself, where it is difficult to hunt, and both poachers and the stalker would have taken the carcass, just leaving the head, lower legs and organs (it's called gralloching). There were no signs of being shot, but often there wouldn't be on the remains we found.
Could they have died from the cold ? November wasn't a cold month, and it wasn't that cold a winter. Here's the Met Office report for November.
Could it have been foxes ? Foxes usually take small prey and sometimes newborn deer calves. A fox wouldn't attack a healthy 4 month old red deer calf, especially when there were sheep and rabbits nearby. But foxes will eat dead animals, no matter how they died. Remember the teeth marks in the skin on the clumps of fur ? I measured them against one of my fox skulls and found they were a perfect match for the distance between them:
Could it have been a big cat ? Last week's post got me thinking, especially as there are no wild animals in the UK which prey on non-baby red deer. There are signs it might have been from another animal from the rib cage that was broken open next to the spine, and the broken humerus and femur. Red deer bones are thick and solid and difficult to bite through. Foxes bite through the tummy to get into the chest cavity rather than bite through the rib cage. As I wrote about last week, a lot of people believe that a bitter open chest cavity is a sign of a big cat, and the way the fur was taken off is too, but I'm not so sure. And why did it kill three almost at the same time in the same place, and then kill nothing there for the next five months ?
Could it have been some other kind of predator ? I had one clue, which was the poo beside it. I knew it was from a big animal, but not a deer, fox or badger. Luckily I knew a poo expert I met a few years ago !
Are these the young deer that died ?
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