Amazing Intelligence in Animals—Mule Deer

See the source imageLast winter (2018) was a ‘heavy snow’ winter for us here in Southern Alberta. For humans, it wasn’t that much of an inconvenience, other than the almost daily clearing of the snow off our cars and driveways, but for our wildlife—and here, in particular, I mean our Mule Deer—it’s a different story for them: they had trouble finding food.

“In my cosmology, indigenous wild deer are more important than exotic ornamental shrubs.” —Elizabeth Marshall Thomas

Normally, we seldom see Mule Deer in town. They’re a bit on the shy side and prefer to forage in the open spaces our rolling grasslands and nearness to the Rocky Mountains provide for them, but last winter, it was common to see small numbers of them on our lawns and picking through our flower beds looking something—anything, to eat.

Mule Deer are native to western North America, and they get their name, “Mule Deer,”  from their long ears, similar to that of a mule. Oh, and here’s a bit of trivia that you may or may not have known: In Chaldean numerology, their numerical value is 7. In Pythagorean numerology, their numerical value is 2. I’ll bet that’s information you always wanted to know, but didn’t know who to ask. 🙂

I don’t know if there is a driver on our highways who hasn’t hit a deer with his car at some time in their life. To some, such an incident puts the deer on the dumb side of the scale: they have excellent sight and hearing, why can’t they hear or see a car coming? But before we judge a deer’s intelligence in this matter, let’s first consider their evolutionary process in learning. They’ve only experienced vehicles in their lives for a little more than a hundred years. To learn something—and this applies to humans, or any other creature—evolutionary-wise, it takes hundreds of years, if not millennia for the lesson to be permanently written into consciousness. They’ve already had several millions of years to learn that a wolf is a predator, and they must run from it, but they’ve had only a very short time to learn that a speeding car can’t stop and wait for them to move off the road.

You’ve heard the saying, “caught in your headlights,” as it applies to deer. When you come upon them on the road, they will stop and ‘stare‘ at you—caught in your headlights. Actually, they’re not staring, nor are they ‘frozen’ for the moment: they’re evaluating the situation; are you harmless to them  or are you a predator, and that moment of analysis—and it takes a moment for the mind to make a decision, be you human or animal—is all it takes for the car to hit the deer.

Deer aren’t the only animals that we hit on our roads. Foxes, coyotes, birds—even domestic animals like cattle can fall victim to this modern “road kill” tragedy, a word that we’ve introduced into our language, and intelligence really has nothing to do with it.

“We are part of the earth and it is part of us. The perfumes flowers are our sisters; the deer, the horse, the great eagle: these are our brothers. All things are connected like the blood which unites one’s family.” —Chief Seattle

A good way to experience the difference in intelligence between humans and animals is to remember that humans think in words. “I think I’ll go for a walk today.” Deer—or any any other animal, can’t rely on language to help them think in words, but this doesn’t mean that they can’t reason as well as we can.

  • They know enough to avoid man. He’s a predator. A rabbit is harmless and can forage alongside of them without having to run from it.
  • The instinct to survive has taught a newborn fawn to walk—even run within an hour of its birth. Humans can’t do that!
  • Deer instinctively know the difference between edible and poisonous plants, unlike us humans who have to turn to our elders for advice on this matter.
  • Deer can learn and remember things. For example, if a deer keeps running into a human at a certain point on its path, it soon learns to avoid that area of its path. True, a deer is no match in mathematical skills to, let’s say even a grade six student, it does have innate survival skills that we humans have to send our kids to Boy Scouts and Girl Guide camps to learn.

Now that summer is almost here and the grass is green and lush again, even on the high mountain slopes, the deer have retreated to their more familiar pastures. Some of our perennial flower arrangements didn’t survive last winter’s deer foraging, but that’s o.k. In sort of a Biblical sense, the plants gave their lives to feed the hungry and starving. Maybe this coming winter I’ll even have the forethought to scatter a few apples discreetly around the lawn to welcome back my very lovely, timid friends.

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