Tuesday 7 January 2014

The mystery of the stag on the roof

As La Nouvelle République relates in its article of 5th January 2014, 'Type "Verneuil-sur-Indre" into any search engine and immediately links will come up to the stag discovered trapped on the roof of a garage in the commune.' The story was picked up by the media around the world, particularly in anglophone countries that compared his unfortunate position with that of Rudolf, Santa's red-nosed reindeer. 'The very media-friendly stag on the roof has spiced up the lives of the people of that commune, "Le très médiatique cerf sur le toit a pimenté leur vie"'. The NR's video of the rescue, led by Philippe Bruneau the mayor and involving a piece of landscaping fabric, a broom, the fire brigade and a couple of ladders, has logged 280,000 views, and the Youtube copy 180,000.

Now what do I do?
It is thought that the animal got onto the lean-to roof during the night of 4th November 2013 from the garden which overlooks the wall at the back. Once there, it found it too slippery to climb back. The rescue unfolds in the video below, the pathetic sight of the stag, scrabbling helplessly for a foothold, being poked with a broom, and finally catching on to the idea that it could walk on the cloth, and the inelegant final clamber over the wall to freedom. By 11am on November 5th it had vanished.

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?


Susan said...

Excellent post and intriguing theory which hadn't occurred to me. I commented on Colin and Elizabeth's blog about the fact that it was non-native. Did you know that the roof it was stuck on now has a deer in Christmas lights? You can see it as you drive through town. That amused me, but I haven't stopped to photograph it. I didn't realise the story had been picked up around the world.

Jean said...

The poor thing.
I hope it got away entirely and is now building a family of its own, in the wild.
I worry about all the shooting going on around here. Killing for fun seems just wrong. Killing for food is ok but I try not to dwell on the thought that many animals must suffer terribly if not killed outright.
Even so, I could never be a vegetarian.

Afrenchgarden said...

I had not seen this story. I did not know about the introduced silka deer either. I will try and find out what we have around this area.

Susan said...

BTW, what about the possibility it came from La Haute Touche? Like the wolf they had previously did.

Tim said...

The story made the Daily Mail, the Daily Mirror, the Huffington Post and numerous other on-line news sites.
There are indeed Sika deer at La Haute-Touche at Obterre, which specialises in herbivores and deer in particular. It's only 20km from Verneuil-sur-Indre which according to Tim is nothing to a deer, so Susan could be right about him coming from there - losing an animal - of an alien invasive species at that - would be bad publicity for them, though, as a serious research organisation.
There's a detailed distribution study using 2007 data by Christine Saint-Andrieux and others published in Faune Sauvage no. 285. There are pockets of sika all over France, the nearest being a fair-sized introduced population in the Orleanais at Chanzy (45). That's a bit too far away, I think. P.

Tim said...

The parc du chateau at Verneuil is immense, and most of it is forest. He's almost certainly in there, in which case he's pretty safe. He only had to go a couple of hundred metres.
That's a new roof he was on - if he'd landed on what was there when Google Street View's vehicle passed by in 2011, he'd have gone straight through. P.