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Nuts to Deer, Swallows and what next?

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Nuts to Deer, Swallows and what next?

[Ed. Note: See Art by Barry Kent MacKay.]

By Barry Kent MacKay, Director, Animal Alliance of Canada
November 2012

We have nothing to fear, but are still afraid.

It's official. The world's gone nuts (as in acorns.read on).

I just got back from a trip to Cranbrook and Kimberly, amid the beautiful Kootenay Rocky Mountains of southeastern British Columbia. While there I tried to respond to what may not be the dumbest question I ever heard, but probably the dumbest of the decade, and mouthed by, of all people, an elected city councillor. It deserves a blog of its own, and will get one next week.

But for the time being let me just say that I met up with Cranbrook resident Colleen Bailey, who has been waging an effort to protect local mule and white-tailed deer from being caught in traps and having steel bolts driven into their brains. The concerns about the deer were, in part, the usual: deer being hit by cars (even in areas that show a decline in such accidents) and deer eating flowers and hedges.

But what shocked me was the level of naked fear of deer among some residents. You'd think people were talking about lions, tigers and bears, oh my; you know: predators; carnivores! But deer? I mean, sure, a deer is potentially capable of harming you, but of all the things I fear, deer are pretty near the bottom, a tad above my concerns about being hit by meteorites or abducted by aliens.

In fact, my Google search turned up exactly two human deaths attributed, maybe, to deer. One was a deer farmer in New Brunswick, who entered an enclosure in which there were randy bucks who had found their way into his herd of does. Duh. While no one saw what happened, his dead body contained puncture wounds that presumably derived from being jabbed by antlers. The other was a hunter ironically involved in culling deer in Indiana. Again no one saw what happened but he apparently went to check on a deer he had shot, and the animal was not quite dead and managed to puncture the guy's liver.

Moral: Deer farming and deer culling are more dangerous than simply enjoying the presence of deer.

Yes, of course a deer could, in theory, hurt you, and they shouldn't be encouraged by feeding them. But as the statistical probability of injury or death go, give me the company of deer over that of, for example, hunters, any day.

That said, I arrived home, settled in, and picked up my morning paper to read about this lady in Toronto who wants all oak trees on the local school ground to be chopped down. Why? Because her child is allergic to nuts. Oaks produce acorns. Nuts. Never mind that the kid would have to eat one to be at risk, and never mind that the pediatricians and other experts interviewed by the journalist had never heard of a child with a nut allergy suffering acorn reaction, the mere possibility was enough to condemn the oaks, at least in that lady's mind.

Can our fear of nature get any more absurd?

Oh yeah. In the same paper was an item about the Toronto Marine Police Unit afraid of.wait for it.barn swallows. I repeat: barn swallows. Well, not so much the birds as their excrement, or to be precise, pathogens in their excrement.

Barn swallows nest in the Unit's boathouse. Yep. They nest in boathouses, sheds, carports, airplane hangers, garages, factories and, um, barns (hence the name) across North America, Europe and Asia, and have done so for as long as such structures have been built, say ten thousand years. But it took Toronto cops to be afraid of what a news article called "toxic poop". It's true that the agents of a fungal disease called histoplasmosis can occur in the mounded dried excrement of pigeons, but swallows? Farmers would have dropped like flies over the centuries were this a real concern. Other unidentified "migratory birds" are referenced in the news report. Pigeons aren't migratory, so who knows what is meant?

Be afraid, be very afraid, not so much about our native fauna and flora, but exaggerated fears based on an inability to understand statistical probabilities and thereby focus on what really threatens us. For example, when is the last time you heard global climate change mentioned by candidates for the presidency of the United States of America? That is a lot more fearful to me, than a swallow, acorn or mule deer.