Protection of the young seems to be an instinct that nature has hardwired into most species. Sometimes, though, I feel that the human species wasn't in line the day this trait was handed out. In FY 2012, for instance, an estimated 686,000 children were abused in the 50 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico, an alarming number by any measure, including sexual abuse, physical abuse, and abuse of children with disabilities. Many of these children were abused by their parents or other primary care-givers.
It’s a sad situation, and enough to turn the rosiest optimist into a cynic. This morning, though, I observed an act of parental care that at least restored my faith in nature – unfortunately, that act was not performed by human parents.
Walking my aged dog in the forest behind my house, I came upon a small herd of deer; several does and their fawns. One of the fawns had gone off by itself, a hundred yards or so separated from the rest. The usual outcome of such encounters is the scattering of the herd, but in this case, I happened to find myself between the fawn and the rest. What happened next is interesting.
The normally timid deer didn’t immediately flee. Two of the does stood their ground, making huffing noises at me, while the fawn froze in place. I stopped walking and, standing as still as I could (getting the dog to stay still is easy, she’s so old, she prefers resting anyway). We stood this way for nearly fifteen minutes. Me and the dog watching the deer, waiting to see what they would do. The does continued to make huffing noises, sometimes edging toward me – getting within fifty yards at times. The fawn remained perfectly still. I sidled toward the fawn. The does came closer, stamping their feet and huffing. When I turned toward them, they withdrew, but only a short way.
Finally, when I turned and walked quickly toward the fawn, it fled toward a stream just downhill of us. The does, frantic now, came even closer, huffing even louder. I stopped and watched. The lead doe sniffed the air and looked down toward the stream. I could no longer see the fawn, but could hear it running through the foliage. Suddenly, the entire herd, which had been waiting a ways back from the two does, turned and fled deeper into the forest. After a couple more huffs at me, the two does turned, and with their white tails flashing, followed.
If I’d been a hunter or a predator, those two deer would have been in great danger. But, they stood their ground in an effort to protect the stray fawn, trying to draw my attention away from it long enough to allow it to flee to safety.
My faith in nature is restored. I only wish more humans would take a lesson from it.