Long winter creates stress for wild animals

Photo: Mehmet Karatay, Creative Commons 3.0

With snow continuing to fall across the Czech Republic, people are getting tired of the long winter. Wild animals are equally stressed as we await at least another week of cold temperatures. With record numbers of deer expected to die this winter, Linda Mastalir asked Helena Jankova from the Czech-Moravian Hunters Association about how the long & harsh winter has been affecting wild animals:

Photo: Jojo,  Creative Commons 3.0
"The animals are used to winter but this one has been extremely harsh and very long. This winter is especially problematic for road and red deer in places that have been covered by snow since November. With a metre of snow for half the year, it's hard for them to get to any food."

Are there particular areas in the Czech Republic where the conditions are harsher for animals?

"Yes, in places that are at least 600m above sea level. Every winter, hunters provide extra food for animals but this year it's a problem in those places because it is minus 20 degrees and the snow is too high for them, so it's hard for the animals to move and they start to freeze and become weak."

Now, there have been several news reports about the fact that deer have been going blind as a result of eating rape root. Could you explain how this happens?

Photo: Mehmet Karatay,  Creative Commons 3.0
"The rape root is the first green thing that they can find in the field at this time of the year, and they very much like to eat it because it is sweet. But they can go blind and have coordination problems. This means that they can easily get hit by cars. Hunters are trying to help by putting other attractive food to eat in the fields."

Is it true that hunters have also been killing the animals that have gone blind?

"Well, basically, if they find some animals that are already nearly dead then they kill them because they don't want them to have more pain. But the better way is to try to avoid it by helping them upfront."

So, given the fact that animals are more stressed because of the harsh winter conditions, how should people behave when they go out into nature?

"It's a big problem, especially when huge events like the Jizerska Padesatka cross-country skiing event or some musher's competitions take place. Then the animals run to places that they don't know and they get to the high snow and are disoriented. I would also say that people should watch their dogs when they walk them, so that they don't run after the game."

What about the rate of poaching under these conditions? Has it increased because the animals are weaker as a result of the long winter?

"Poaching is always a problem. But in March it is especially inhumane because most of the animals are waiting to give birth, and it's also very easy to find them then—easy to catch them."

What effect has all of this had on the numbers of wild game?

"It's worst for the road deer. Due to the low temperature, high snow, nothing to eat, them getting to places where they cannot survive, or the fact that they are disturbed by people or dogs, thousands of road deer die in the winter every year."

Do you expect that number to be higher this year?