Oct 16 2013
On Monday I described how American Indians shaped the landscape before European arrival. We shape it too, though we don’t always realize how. Case in point: There are more deer in North America now than there were before Columbus landed in 1492.
Because deer are a prey species, their abundance is tied to their predators. When American Indians ruled the continent they hunted deer for food and to control the population so the animals would not decimate their crops. They knew that either no deer or too many deer meant less food.
European Americans are still figuring out how to balance the deer population. We overdid it a century ago by uncontrolled hunting that killed all the deer in Pennsylvania. Uh oh! Pennsylvania passed hunting laws and imported deer from Virginia to repopulate our state.
Now we’ve erred on the other side. We’ve eliminated the deer’s other predators and protected them from hunting so well that their population has exploded into every nook and cranny including city neighborhoods.
Sharon Leadbitter spends a lot of time photographing nature at Allegheny Cemetery in the city’s Lawrenceville district. Deer are often her photo subjects because they’re everywhere. In a conversation with the president of the cemetery she learned that about 300 deer live there in three herds. This is way too many deer for the land to support so they move throughout the neighborhood eating gardens, shrubs, flowers and handouts.
Since most of the “inhabitants” are dead and the living come quietly to pay their respects, the cemetery’s deer are almost tame. Sharon says this is both a blessing and a curse, “Some of the blessings are that the deer will eat out of your hand if they know you. The curse would be this great interaction. People feed all manner of things to these animals. White bread, cereal, I’ve even seen a candy bar being fed. It only takes once for someone to be bitten or kicked. These are not pets but because the animals have lost most of their healthy fear, people don’t realize that they are still semi-wild.”
Deer browse and gambol among the headstones, unconcerned by living visitors. Sharon filmed a fawn playing among the tombstones last June while his mother watched.
“The cemetery is a great place to have some quiet time and reconnect with nature,” says Sharon. “Come check it out but always maintain a respectful distance, or even better stay in the car” when you visit the deer among the dead.
(video by Sharon Leadbitter)