|Now what do I do?|
Olivier Laffargue of BFMTV was one of the few to remark at the time that the animal was of an east Asian species, and that nothing was said, in public at least, about how it came to be where it was. The black-and-white still photographs showing the animal lying on the roof gave no real idea of scale and the species was not mentioned in 5th November's media frenzy. A cerf is by implication a red deer stag. More properly this should be called a cerf élaphe, cervus elaphus. The delicate build, dark colour and fluffy backside all point to this being a sika stag (cervus nippon, cerf sika). A fully grown sika stag - as this one is - can be less than half the weight of a well grown red deer stag.
Sikas are natives of the far east and were introduced into various hunting parks throughout Europe from the 19th century. The species is an invasive alien. Sika and red deer interbreed readily and the genome of the British population of red deer is now affected by hybridisation. This is the fear behind "the dark side of the story", as the NR's Billet column puts it. On the afternoon of 5th November, the prefecture, alerted to the presence of a sika deer on the roof of a garage in the commune, issued an arrêté, an order that it should be killed. "People locally with hunting interests wanted to destroy the animal, and therefore the prefect has authorised shooting it because it is not a native species", announced the mayor.
As well, rumours began to run wild about the presence of the sika. Certain villagers, walking in the forest to pick mushrooms, spoke of livestock transporters in the surrounding woods. Some said they saw these lorries the day before the presence of the deer in the village, others after. From there followed all sorts of hypotheses: that the stag was released by persons unknown; that it was sought in order to recapture it.
But as any loyal Archers fan knows, deer do not take kindly to trucks. Deer farmed for venison are not taken to an abattoir for slaughter - they panic, resulting in injury or death from shock, and tainting of the meat by the presence of stress hormones. Instead they are picked off one at a time by a marksman using a silenced rifle.
There now follows a hypothesis of my own. This sika was not going to slaughter. It was tranquilised. It was on its way to someone's illicit hunting preserve like the one discovered at Bourgueil at the end of December, where large game animals are effectively farmed, and shoots are sold for a tidy sum, "de coquettes sommes d'argent". Somehow this one got away Yes, the roof was slippery, and the deer appeared too wobbly on its pins to negotiate the slope. That could be down to exhaustion, or to intoxication, or both. The appearance of half a dozen blokes and their equipment, and sparkling brass helmets in the case of the pompiers, did not appear to faze it particularly. And having safely negotiated the fabric, it was not so exhausted as to prevent it jumping over the wall and fleeing at top speed.
The prefecture's arrêté came too late. The story of this creature, its successful rescue and its happy release into the forest, went around the world. The subsequent killing of the stag would have been a media disaster for Verneuil-sur-Indre. So where is it now?