From Peter Frost Pennington

Iona & I thought we’d finished with parenting youngsters now our 3 have fledged, left the nest and even got jobs!

However, a knock on the door late last Monday evening changed all that.  A local lady, quite agitated, had hit a roe deer on the road outside Muncaster. Badly injured, she’d managed to drag it off the road and contact us, knowing I am a vet. Iona went to collect it with the concerned local in the van while I prepared the tools of my trade. Roe deer and cars do not get on well together and the outcome is never good for either of them, especially the deer.

A few minutes later Iona reappeared, looking very concerned. “It’s bad; a doe and she’s very heavily pregnant, near term.”

I examined her and quickly came to the conclusion that her injuries were so severe there was little we could do to help except end her suffering as soon as possible. Although she had no milk in her teats, it was clearly obvious she was not far off giving birth.

What could we do? Rightly or wrongly we thought the young in her tum deserved to be given a chance. Not expecting success we put the doe to sleep and once she was definitely dead and insensible I took a scalpel blade and performed the fastest caesarean I have ever done, expecting no joy.

I managed to deliver a tiny little fawn and passed it to Iona, an expert shepherd and farmer who quickly set to work. Surprisingly, the little fawn, after an agonising moment which seemed like minutes but could only have been seconds, gave a gasp. “It’s breathing!”  Iona exclaimed. She worked on it hard and a few moments later we were looking at the most gorgeous little creature, spluttering and shaking its tiny head.

And so it was, out of tragedy and disaster sprang a ray of hope, of life reborn. Reluctantly & unexpectedly, Iona & I stood blinking at each other realising we were parents once again, responsible for a poor helpless being that now depended utterly on us.

All newborn children transform the lives of their parents in an instant. Even though we are only foster parents for “Twiggy” as we have called her (very beautiful and lovely long legs) we have spent the last 5 days feeding, toileting, warming, protecting and generally caring for this most beautiful of creatures. The books and experts all tell us roe deer are amongst the hardest wild animals to rear once orphaned and regrettably the likelihood of success is probably quite low but that won’t stop us trying.  We may well fail…but we will do our best and some. If we do succeed in keeping her alive over the next few hours, days and weeks we do not know what the future will hold for her as she will certainly be a rather confused young deer, imprinted on humans, but we would love to be able to return her to the wild at least partially, if we possibly can. But that is all in the future, if we manage to keep her going.

If you do visit Muncaster over the next few days, do ask about her progress but please do not ask to see her. Although she has already had to share the warmth of our kitchen with our 3 dogs and cat our thoughts at the moment are to shield her from mass human contact until we see how it all plays out. We are now trying to keep her as naturally as possible, taking her for walks in the extensive woodland gardens of Muncaster and in the daytime at least keeping her in a natural enclosure with plenty of vegetation and cover. We do occasionally come across other people as we feed and walk her and that is fine, but hope most folk will be content to see her only in photos or videos.

It has been an absolute joy and delight to get to know her well over these last 5 days. Her instincts are ingrained and amazing. Basically she seems to be almost nothing else but legs, with a tiny dappled body yet she is the best hide and seek artist I have ever come across. It is wonderful to see her ability to vanish into the undergrowth in seconds and her skills at playing “Grandma’s Footsteps” are superb. If she perceives a dog on the horizon during a walk she freezes and stands stock still in an instant; if she thinks she is not being watched but has spotted the dog before the dog sees her, she drops instantly to the ground and again lies totally motionless. She follows Iona and I around keeping so close to our calves that you have to be very careful not to kick her or stand on her. We have struggled to get her suckling well, but she has put on weight every day so far and is suckling much better today. To say we are besotted with her is probably an understatement yet we always try to think of her welfare and needs as the number one priority. Our staff love her as well and a few of them have seen her up close and personal but on the whole we try to show her to people through the photos and videos we take regularly to chart her progress.

If we fail in our quest I do hope we can say we did our best; if we succeed in raising her who knows what the future will hold but we are already consulting and working with other wildlife experts……and both of us have quite a lot of experience of raising youngsters of various species including red deer calves in the past. So if you wish to know whether we fail or succeed, we will try to update our website and facebook page when time permits with pics and videos when possible.

Muncaster’s whole ethos is based on conservation and although this tale started with a tragedy we do hope we can bring joy out of suffering and learn a little bit more about the wonders of the wildlife that frequent Muncaster…and share that experience with others who wish to be share our ups and downs. And please be forgiving if you find Iona and I are grumpy during this process; we thought we finished with the middle of the night feeding regimes 20 or more years ago!