Wild DeerPhoto by: Stock Photo

Deb Matlock, MA

A few weeks ago, I wrote a blog entitled A Confusion of the Heart which explored the depths of the human heart and our connection to wild animals. In this post, I spoke of the death of a baby bison after the baby was placed in a car by Yellowstone Park visitors and driven to a ranger station. Why? Because the visitors feared the animal was cold and abandoned.

In a similar story reported in The Washington Post on January 7, 2017, a family was devastated after game wardens in Kansas shot a deer they had been keeping as a semi-house pet, while they watched in horror. This deer, named Faline, was reportedly tamed by the family, enjoyed time in their home, and also roamed free as a wild deer. Essentially, this deer was caught between two worlds…the world of the wild and the world of humanity.

Two Worlds

Faline’s family claimed they felt a very deep connection with her when they first met her and thus decided to tame her. She lived on their six-acre farm, communed with the other resident animals, and came and went as she pleased. Ultimately, this lifestyle led to her death due to rigid regulations concerning the unlawful keeping of a wild animal, the risk of spreading disease, and the potential danger to humans.

I cannot help but think there was a more humane way to handle this situation aside from killing Faline. Could she have been kept in an enclosure on the land…one of several acres? Maybe…and maybe not. Perhaps Faline was far too used to her freedom and being enclosed would have caused her distress. Perhaps Faline was far too comfortable near humans and would have ultimately had a negative encounter. Perhaps Faline would have thrived in her captive life. We will never know. Faline was tragically caught between two worlds.

Deer licking her lips | Stock Photo

Deep Connections

I understand first-hand the draw of having a special relationship with a wild animal. I live among many wild animals and know that we get to a point of mutual recognition, perhaps even relationship, on some level. They know my habits…when I garden, walk the dogs, that I can go out to claim the mail and will not chase them and I also know their habits. I know which squirrels are chattier than others, which doves will wait on the fencepost and watch me work and if I am paying close attention, sometimes I can tell one robin from the next based on appearance and personality.

I cherish these close encounters, but I also know that it is my responsibility to let these animals remain wild. The way I can love them the most is to let them live freely…not feed them from my hand and certainly not bring them into my house. This often goes against my heart. My heart wants to open my doors, leave food for all, and essentially take them into my care. I want to know them as individuals and discover their unique personalities. But if I were to do this, I would be taking away their very ability to live as wild beings. After all, my dogs and cats are cherished members of my family but I often wonder if their domestication has imprisoned them a bit. Their life is up to me and this often seems unnatural. Their domestication has made them dependent on humanity.

This story brings up so many points of confusion…confusion of what it means to deeply connect with a wild animal; confusion of what it means to “manage” human and wildlife interactions in a humane way; confusion of the value of a single life, regardless of species.

As we move forward, humans and other animals living side by side in increasing frequency, we must grapple with the personal responsibility we each hold to create a safe and viable world for all. Often the way forward is a confusing, complex, and challenging one to identify.

Please share your thoughts in the comment section below.

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Deb Matlock has spent twenty years working as a professional environmental educator and naturalist. Her work includes teaching indoors and out, offering trainings and presentations, and designing and evaluating EE programs. Deb’s research on the connection between spirituality and environmental education has been presented nationally and internationally. She is pursuing a PhD in Environmental Education at Antioch University and is Past Board President for the Colorado Alliance for Environmental Education.

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