The Daily News. Friday, March 11. 1994
In America, the white-tailed deer
is one of the most popular game
Before the first white men. set-
tled in America, there were millions
of deer roaming the open country of
the "New World." These animals
lived in a perfect environment with
the Indians. who only took from
nature when it was necessary.
For example, deer played an
important role in the Indian's cul-
ture for thousands of years. To the
Indians, deer were a source of food
The antlers were used as chip-
ping tools, ornaments, headdresses,
bow strings and for making fishing
lines. Deer were also an important
par of the folklore and religion of
However, this changed when the
early colonists and explorers uti-
lized deer as a source of food and
served as a medium of exchange
between traders, trappers and Indi-
Thus, the history of white-tailed
deer in America is one of both tri-
umph and tragedy.
During this period of forest
exploitation and land clearing by
the settlers, foraging supplies
became plentiful and deer increased
However, the downfall of the
settlers' success was the repeated
burning of cutover forests, hunting
pressure, agricultural development,
indiscriminate slaughter for com-
mercial deer meal and a lack of
game laws to protect the deer popu-
By the end of the 1900y, the deer
population was less than 500,000,
compared to the 24 million to 34
million estimated to have lived on
the continent in 1500 A.D.
The white-tailed deer somehow
survived the late 1800s and early
1900s in remote mountain ranges,
swamps and on the large land hold-
ings of conservationists.
In the 1930s and "40s white-
tailed deer made a remarkable
comeback. This was due to refor-
estation, better law enforcement.
the successful stocking of habitat
areas and public awareness and sup-
Today, white-tailed deer are not
just hunted for recreation. Agricul-
ture has made deer into a product
that brings in billions of dollars to
the national economy.
In Texas, there are hundreds of-
deer farms that contribute to the
state economy. Deer are also aes-
thetically appealing in that many
people regard them as a symbol of
the natural environment.
White-tailed deer have been
released to many other countries
and island nations around the
world, including the Virgin Islands.
In 1790 the deer were introduced
here as game. They adapted well,
and old-timers tell stories about the
deer swimming between islands.
Dr. David Nellis. a wildlife biol.
ogist for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife
Service on St. Thomas, supports the
stories that deer still swim today
between islands like Great St.
James. Little St. James and St.
On St. Croix, my good friends
Ann V. Parris and Kai Lawaetz
mentioned to me about how deer
were abundant when they were
Parris said that "you used to see
about 15 deer in a week's lime in
the Carlton or Whim areas looking
for water in the cow pastures during
the dry season."
From 1930 to 1960 deer were
plentiful in these islands. Back then.
there were more habitats to roam
and a variety of food.
Deer eat mostly by browsing on
leaves, twigs, young shoots of
plants, vines and other broad-leafed
flowering plants. They eat some
grasses, but only when green and
succulent. Fruit trees like soursop,
genip. guava, mango, white man-
grove and while manjack are eaten
by deer. They also eat the green
pods and shoots of tan-tan, cash.
hibiscus, saman and thibet plants.
The mating season of white-
tailed deer is usually in the fall, but
they also produce young throughout
the year depending on environmen-
Fall was once the hunting season
for deer in both the U.S. mainland
and the Virgin Islands. However, in
1974 deer hunting was banned here.
As in the early settlement of the
United States, the deer's tragedy
was the destruction or altering of its
According to Nellis, there are
approximately 200 deer on St.
Thomas and 1.000 deer on St. Croix
today. Poachings are still a problem
when the deer come out to feed
after dark or early in the morning.
The varieties of food are also
decreasing as man changes the veg-
etation and environment.
Today deer are found in remote
areas like the north side of St.
Croix. Jack and Isaac bays.
There has been no real scientific
research on deer to determine their
food habits, reproduction stages or
travel patterns in the islands.
Who knows? Deer could be of
great benefit to the islands' econo.
my. It was the public's concern for
the survival of deer in the United
Like everything else in these
islands politics instead of com-
mon sense. Although deer are not
native to these islands, they have a
right to be a part of the environ-
SFOR MORE INFORMATION
Call Fish and Wildlife on St.
Thomas at 775.0762 or on St.
Croix at 772.1955.
Olasee Davis, who holds a mas-
ter of science degree in range manr-
agemetr anu d forestry ecology. is a.
St. Croix ecologist. activist and
Man crowding out white-tailed deer