Eat your heart out, McDonald’s: a deer rescue in Maryland

PHOTO COURTESY OF NARA AIDAN

The imperiled deer in Mt. Sinai Park have a food source to help them through the night.

More than a dozen plastic containers filled with a brown powder usually found in food bags serve as a nighttime food source for the deer.

On a recent day, the rodents were scurrying around on the grass, slowly eating the small packages to help them digest overnight food, a practice known as skittish eating. Skittish eating is believed to benefit deer, and the Massachusettes Natural Resources Council is putting meat and milk from the deer in bags to enhance their appetite.

The deer under the care of the Nara Deer Rescue Organization get help from volunteers and a food distribution program run by a local food pantry.

The program began in 2016 after a dangerous deer-on-pavement collision that was potentially fatal.

Nara staff member Mike Altbacker first began distributing treats to deer last year, at first doling out treats from his own backpack. On New Year’s Day, Altbacker and other volunteers began distributing the treats in plastic food containers through a portable food distribution system.

The deer attending to the treats are also given small plastic food buckets and gloves to use to drink from the treats, and volunteers oversee distribution.

Altbacker is finding that some of the deer are skittish and skitter around trying to get at the treats. Altbacker says he doesn’t really mind the skittishness, though. Altbacker says the deer seem to be finding it pleasant to go for treats outside of Nara’s three-acre habitat and that the treats are not toxic to the deer.

If there were another collision that resulted in injury or death to the deer, the bags and boxes could go to a processing plant to be made into a gelatin-based treatment that can be used for making digestive aids for the deer, says Altbacker.

Maryland is home to a number of local efforts in the ongoing battle to protect and conserve the state’s deer population.

The efforts often focus on providing measures for the deer to avoid collisions with vehicles and putting structures and other wildlife conservation measures in place. At Nara, the deer’s care is not accidental. Altbacker says the deer are very intelligent and can be tough to manage. Nara is much smaller than the deer encountered elsewhere in the state.

In addition to deer, Altbacker and others work to keep wild turkeys off Nara by trying to scare the birds off from breeding, which contributes to decreasing the deer population. And Altbacker works with squirrels to get rid of the rats they are known to prey on the deer and nectar bees that pollinate flower species.

But, Altbacker says, “we are doing some things here that do help the deer in the end.”

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