Recently I took a trip to Haida Gwaii with my theatre group. Part of our work involved travelling along the beautiful shore road between the communities of Skidegate and Massett, a trip that takes over an hour of driving. Along the way, we noticed many of the small deer that inhabit the island grazing along the roadside. We also passed a very large yellow sign with a deer silhouette and the words “Caution Deer” in big block letters.
It occurred to us that some kind soul had posted the sign to engage passing motorists, both drivers and passengers, encouraging action for the benefit of the deer population. We discussed this directive to “Caution Deer” at length. What should we caution them about? Some of our group opted for warnings about hunters or keeping fawns away from eagles. Clearly they were not taking the “Caution Deer” ask seriously. A vigorous discussion ensued.
Of course the obvious risk factors came to mind. We wondered if the deer were eating a balanced diet. It would appear from all the grazing we witnessed that they consume a lot of grasses and other plants. There was a lot of that available so food security seemed moot. There may be a concern with contamination and pollutants from dining so close to the road, however. Before a truly meaningful program of cautioning deer about nutrition could take place it seems we would need a detailed research regimen to determine dietary needs and availability. On a positive note, there were often groups of deer grazing together. This underscores the positive social value of communal meal sharing.
From the look of the creatures and from the way they moved it did not seem that sedentary behavior was a concern so encouraging an active lifestyle would likely be preaching to the choir. Still there may be opportunity to collaboratively assess and develop a broader range of healthy movement and integrate it into their day to day behavior.
We did not see any indication of tobacco use among the deer so that too is either of no concern or is well hidden. (Pedro was the dissenting opinion in this as he noted some cigarette butts along the shoulder of the road but these could have been from other wildlife. Again this provides a rich potential area for study). Other substance use also was not evident. The island does support a range of hallucinogenic mushrooms but we saw no evidence of use among the deer population. (This may be a seasonal problem not manifested at this time of year. Again, further study is required.)
One area that seems to offer ample room for intervention and possible positive outcome is in the field of injury prevention. After all, the deer were spending what seemed like a great deal of time near roadways, which offer a high risk for unfortunate interaction. Also we saw a number of deer running and jumping over fences and obstacles. None of them were wearing any protective gear!
As a group we settled on our caution to the deer to be “look both ways before crossing the highway” and “don’t drink the sea water.” (One of our group had tasted it and insisted on including this warning.) These are not an entirely satisfactory set of cautions to be sure, but it was the best we could manage on such short notice.
In retrospect, it’s worth thinking about the overall health of the deer population of Haida Gwaii and considering how we could promote positive behavior in how they live, eat, run, play and interact. Doing so would have the obvious benefit of preventing disease and disability among the deer population but it could also improve the overall quality of life for the deer and for those humans fortunate enough to encounter them in the future.
About Andrew Burton
Andrew is a tobacco reduction coordinator for Northern Health’s population health team and works to support healthy living practices in communities across northern B.C. Andrew is developing positive activity and diet practices for two reasons: to deal with his own health concerns, and to “walk the talk” of promoting healthy living. Building on his training and experience in creative arts therapy, Andrew founded and runs the Street Spirits Theatre program promoting social responsibility among young people. This work has been recognized nationally and internationally as a leading method of social change.