There are often tales of deer on the island of St. Kitts but for many who have never glimpsed the spritely animal, the presence of the white-tailed deer remains a myth.
As it turns out deer in St. Kitts is a very real phenomenon, so much so, that they are the only mammal protected by law on the island.
Their existence on the island dates back to the 1930s. Records indicate the white-tailed deer was introduced to St. Kitts in 1931 by Phillip Todd on the Lodge Plantation at Lodge Estate. These animals were brought to the island for hunting purposes as game as is done in Virginia in the United States where they originated.
Think of these deer as large goats, walking around eating all the vegetation they could find. This was the issue encountered by plantation owners who would let the deer free so that they could later hunt them.
The deer’s nature became its saving grace as the planters could not afford to lose their sugar crops. To release them on the plantation with hopes of hunting them would be disadvantageous to them as the deer would eat and run so to speak, thereby causing the plantation owners to lose crops and money.
And so begins the deer’s journey into ‘exile’. Actually, they were removed from the countryside where Lodge Estate is located and placed in the Frigate Bay area where there was very little development at the time and the deer would have all the grass it could eat. There were pastures for grazing and the only other activity would have been salt mining.
The deer were released in Frigate Bay and also at Dale mountain range from Canada to Bayfords. They soon migrated to the Southeast Peninsula and so from Dale to the tip of the Southeast Peninsula became their range.
Today, people occasionally see them in the Keys Village/Dale mountain area and there is also evidence of deer at the Basseterre Valley Aquifer.
Forestry Officer in the Department of Environment Dr Eric Browne told Loop Caribbean that he travels to the South East Peninsular often to monitor the deer on the island to ensure they are doing well.
“I went there very recently. It is an exciting thing to go night hiking hoping to get a glimpse of the deer. I can say that I am pleased with what I am seeing. The deer are thriving. I got to see a number of them, including females with young fawns.”
“Our deer have something that is quite interesting, different to the population that they came out of (Virginia, USA). While the deer in Virginia roam more during the daytime, the deer in St.Kitts, when they are spotted, is mainly night time.
Dr Browne dared to speculate that it is perhaps the deer’s way of adapting to the environment that they live in, where humans are more active during the day so they feel safer at night.
“This would explain why at night we would notice that they leave the South East Peninsula and travel to as far as Keys Village. At night they would roam. I usually go in search of them anywhere after 9 pm when the place is quiet. Most of them, I would see them roam mainly after 12 or 1 o’clock into the wee hours just before dawn. In those times you would find the place is quiet, not much movement so they can move easily. They move pretty fast.”
Dr Browne said it is still a mystery for him where the deer hide during the day.
“I am yet to find where they hide during the day. I hike in the hills to find where they hang out. At nights I have found certain areas and clearings from following them.”
Deer- A protected Species
While the deer was initially brought to St. Kitts to be hunted, and while they continue to be hunted in other parts of the world, in St. Kitts and Nevis it is illegal to hurt these animals.
Deer are the only mammal in St. Kitts protected by law. This law was passed in 1987. When the idea came about to start developing the South East Peninsula, paving what is now known as the Kennedy Simmonds Highway among other developments, the government of St. Kitts and Nevis in an effort to preserve the ecology of the area, had to put legislation in place to protect the fauna.
The deer was declared protected along with all the birds (except farm birds) in St. Kitts.
It is unfortunate though that while there is little hunting of deer on the island, the mammals are often the victim of motor vehicle accidents.
Dr Browne said throughout this year, the department has received approximately ten cases of deer being struck by vehicles.
“This is alarming because if that keeps happening at this rate, we are putting the deer in danger. We don’t want to get rid of them. It is a lovely attraction; they are now part of us.”
He made an appeal to persons driving in the Southeast Peninsula area to be cautious and look out for deer.
“Please, when you are on the South East Peninsula drive carefully; especially when you get to Sundance Ridge.”
He said signage will be erected to alert drivers to be mindful to drive carefully in what he refers to as deer country.
By simply being in possession of a deer in St. Kitts and Nevis an offence is being committed under section 45 of the National Conservation & Environment Protection Act, which carries a penalty of a fine not exceeding $5000 and/or up-to three months imprisonment.
Persons who find parts of deer and wish to preserve them are asked to first inform Dr Browne and the department so as to avoid any issues in the future. He said it is possible to tell whether a deer was killed or died naturally and so it is important that persons who find deer allow it to be documented to rule out the illegality of deer possession.
“Naturally deer die and there are people who would find the carcass or the skeleton of deer, especially the male deer which has the antlers as they do not decompose. They would therefore find a skull with the antlers on it. It is a thing of beauty. It is lovely. There was one person who found a deer’s head, varnished it and mounted it on their wall. They uploaded the picture to Facebook but I have asked them and many others to be discreet. I ask them to be discreet because I don’t want to start a frenzy where persons start saying ‘oh this looks lovely, I want one, which would lead to the willful killing of the deer.”
Dr Browne made it clear that he is not against preserving the skeleton of the deer as he says “It is a way of preserving the island’s heritage.”
A study is being conducted that will give an estimate of how many deer are on the island.
“To this day people tell me there is no deer because seeing is believing. I can tell you the deer is real. I am asking people to be mindful and let us preserve what we have.”
News article sourced through Caribbean Loop News: https://caribbean.loopnews.com/content/white-tailed-deer-legally-protected-species-st-kitts-and-nevis-567386